N95 Masks vs. Surgical Masks: What's the Difference?

With the appearance of a novel coronavirus disease outbreak in 2020 and the expectation of a second wave, there has been considerable interest in the use of facemasks as one of the most effective infection control measures. COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, talks, or sneezes. To prevent this spread these masks are used as they provide a barrier to further prevent these respiratory droplets from spreading in the air. These masks mainly block droplets from coming in contact with other people when you talk or cough. 

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks also known as medical masks are disposable, loose-fitting, covering the nose and mouth. These fluid-resistant masks are designed to be used by healthcare executives to defend the wearer against large droplets, sprays, and splashes. When it comes to smaller airborne particles, surgical masks fail to provide reliable protection. 

N95 Respirators

N95 masks are typically disposable respirators. N stands for “Non-Oil” meaning that if no oil-based particulates are present, then you can use this mask while 95 means having a 95 percent efficiency. They provide more protection against airborne particles than surgical masks because they are designed to be tightly-fitted and can filter both large and small particles, including aerosols.

Understanding the major differences between a Surgical Mask and N95 Mask:

Surgical masks and N95 masks are useful items for the flu or any other airborne pandemics. Most people today are familiar with face masks but they aren't sure what's the difference between the two.


Surgical masks are useful in medical conditions, treatment practices, and for overall protection from germs. These masks work great while preventing bodily fluids that contain viruses and bacteria. Surgical masks leave a gap between your skin and the edge of the mask, they tend to have a loose-fitting on the face. They protect the mouth and nose well from larger particulates including saliva and other respiratory emissions. 

N95 masks being similar to face masks are more efficient at protecting against tiny contaminated airborne particulates. They fit close to the face, reducing the gap that standard face masks have. These masks will protect the wearer against the small particles, will also block and filter large particulates and guard against splashes, and large droplets just like the regular face masks.

Now let's have a glance at some major differences between the two. Let's begin with the basics of both kinds of masks. The main difference between them is their attachment method, fluid resistance, and seal:

1) Usage:

surgical mask is a general-purpose mask that is used in clinical practice with patients that have droplet precautions (Larger particles).

N95 is for airborne (smaller particles), the N95 mask has a filter that is designed to reduce the risk of small particles from traveling into your masks and your airways system.

So, surgical masks won't protect you from airborne diseases and small particles.

2) Face Seal and Fit: 

Surgical masks have gaps along with them from the sides or bottom, which means there are gaps from where the air can escape and enter along with infected particles which means a compromised safety. Leakage occurs.

In case N95 there are no gaps, they are tightly fitted to prevent any kind of air particles. They provide complete resistance as they have a very tight seal. Minimal leakage.

Girl shops with mask

3) Safety Percentage:

Surgical masks are intended to control aerosols and droplets at the source. They provide a modest amount of filtration for the wearer. They provide loose fitting but are easy to breathe through.

N95 masks are designed to be a complete filter to protect the wearer. They are capable of providing control of aerosols along with droplets at the source. Tight-fitting of these masks forms a seal and makes it somewhat difficult to breathe as compared to the surgical masks.

4) Usage Limitations

 Surgical masks are disposable. They are intended for minimal use and need to be discarded after each use or patient encounter. 

N95 masks are for single-use and are to be discarded when they become damaged or deformed, no longer creates an effective seal to the face, becomes wet or breathing becomes difficult. 


In conclusion, surgical/N95 masks are intended to set a barrier between the wearer and the environment. Both help keep spit and mucous produced by the wearer from reaching a patient or any equipment. 

Some people do claim that they need N95 masks to prevent coronavirus. They say that the surgical masks won’t make it to that extent when it comes to the coronavirus. You must wear the right masks when it is required and when there is the right situation for that particular mask. The above-defined points explain the difference between the two masks, make your choice as per the circumstances to protect others and yourselves from this pandemic. 

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