What's the difference between N95 and Surgical Masks?

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They both go on your face, but they do very different things.

Plus they look super different.

An N95-type mask (we're including all global standards for N95 variants) is meant to form a tight fit seal around the face to do its work of filtering out unwanted particles. They come in rounded or trapezoidal shapes.

They are really meant to be disposable in a healthcare context, but due to the shortage of PPE, frontline workers are often given one to use for a week. You should definitely not rewear a respirator if it has any visual evidence of contamination or soiling. 

A surgical mask is meant more for splash resistance - and protects other people from your cough spewing everywhere. It's square in shape and commonly a blue or white rectangle shape. 

Below is a breakdown of the difference between a surgical mask and a NIOSH-approved N95. 


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Image credits: BBC.co.uk, Meridian Health