What’s the Difference Between Face Masks and Respirators?

What’s the Difference Between Face Masks and Respirators?

N95 Respirators - Face Masks

When shopping for PPE supplies or medical personal protective equipment, it’s essential that you get the right type of products that will ensure protection for your workers. There are dozens of different brands and types of PPE out there, so the more you know about the different types and the advantages and disadvantages of each, the easier it will be to make an informed decision.

At Nationwide Medical Supply, we are committed to providing our customers with affordable, high-quality PPE, including face masks and respirators. While we can go into detail about the differences between specific types of face masks, respirators, as well as surgical masks, we will focus now on the overall difference between the three: face masks, surgical masks, and respirators.

  • Face Masks: This includes synthetic materials as well as reusable cloth face masks. The mask covers the user’s nose and mouth, but may or may not provide a barrier for fluids or meet filtration efficiency levels. They do not serve a medical purpose and are not considered medical-grade devices.
  • Surgical Masks: These also cover the user’s nose and mouth, but are intended for medical use and are considered medical devices.
  • Respirators: Also known as filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), respirators filter at least 95% of airborne particulates.

Surgical masks and respirators can be further broken down into six main differences.

Testing and Approval

  • Surgical masks are cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Respirators are evaluated, tested, and approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Intended Use and Purpose

  • Surgical masks protect the user from sprays, splashes, large droplets, and hazardous fluids. They protect the user from respiratory emissions.
  • Respirators provide a greater level of protection, reducing exposure to small particle aerosols and large non-oil aerosol droplets.

Fit and Leakage

  • Surgical masks have a looser fit around the nose, mouth, and chin. There is leakage around the edges of the mask when the wearer breathes.
  • Respirators are tight-fighting, providing greater protection from particulates. When properly worn, there will only be minimal leakage around the edges of a respirator when the user breathes.

Fit Testing and Seal Checks

  • Surgical masks do not require fit testing and the user does not need to check if there is a proper seal when the mask is worn.
  • Respirators do require fit testing and the user is required to ensure that there is a proper seal when the respirator is put on.


  • Surgical masks do not provide the user protection from small airborne particles. They are not considered respiratory protection.
  • Respirators, such as an N95 respirator, filter out 95% of large and small airborne particles.

Use Limitations

  • Surgical masks should be disposed of after the user has worked with each patient.
  • Respirators should ideally be discarded after each use, or when it becomes damaged, does not provide a proper seal, or becomes contaminated.


Shop With Nationwide Medical Supply For Quality, Affordable Face Masks, Surgical Masks, and Respirators

Nationwide offers a selection of 3-ply face masks for both adults and children as well as KN95 and N95 face masks and respirators. We offer three different brands, including 3M, Makrite, and TruAir. Whether you’re looking to get a reliable supply of medical personal protective equipment for a hospital or need respirators for industrial applications, Nationwide Medical Supply has what you need to protect your workers. Shop our selection today, and contact our team if you have any questions.


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