Respirators Versus Surgical Masks

Can you tell the difference between a respirator and a surgical mask just by looking at it?

The difference is not always immediately apparent. A respirator will be marked with its approval rating (e.g., N95, N100, etc.). Surgical masks do not have this rating. (Note there are also “surgical masks” that have been rated as respirators (i.e., N95 surgical masks).)
Always be sure you are wearing the right respirator or mask for the hazards present and task you are performing.

What are some of the differences?

The table below outlines some of the key differences between respirators and surgical masks.

Note: In this document, N95 surgical masks are included in the general category of respirators.

Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 2016. Respirator Trusted-Source Information – Section 3: Ancillary Respirator Information.
Note: See the NIOSH page for further distinction between respirators, surgical masks, and N95 surgical masks.

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