Tips for understanding when and how to use masks and N95 respirators

Student in library wearing a mask with insets of mask and respirator

Face Coverings 101

In times like these, it’s important to understand that not all face coverings are the same. Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, you probably never thought you would have to understand the difference between a non-medical cloth face mask, a medical face mask and a N95 respirator. COVID-19 has created a new reality where face coverings are now a part of our everyday life. Read on to learn more about the different types of mask and respirators.

A quick glance at a few differences between face coverings and N95 respirators

A quick glance at a few differences between face coverings and N95 respirators
Want to learn more? Check out this article for a more in-depth look at the differences.

Want to learn more? Check out this article for a more in-depth look at the differences.

Learn More

Non-Medical Face Masks

3M has been helping the world respond to COVID-19 by providing N95 respirators and medical masks to health care and frontline workers. Now, you can also find non-medical reusable face masks that are great for shopping, working, social gatherings, or any setting where a face covering is recommended or required.

  • Whether you're traveling, running errands, attending personal appointments or doing other activities where face coverings are needed, reach for 3M™ Daily Face Masks.

  • Follow these steps to put on, take off and wear your 3M™ Daily Face Mask.

  • Face masks are an important way to show you care about your community's well-being — but only if you wear them correctly. Follow these simple steps to make sure you do it right.

Face Mask FAQ’s

Click here to see all FAQs

  • A: According to the U.S. CDC, here are some important things to look for in a non-medical cloth face mask:


    • It should have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric
    • It should completely cover both the nose and mouth
    • It should fit snugly against the side of your face and not have gaps
    • It should not have exhalation valves or vents, which may allow virus particles to exit
  • A: The recommended method for cleaning your face mask is to hand wash vigorously with soap and warm water for at least 5 minutes. Rinse and let air dry.

  • A: The 3M™ Daily Face Masks come in a resealable pouch providing the ideal place to store your clean and dry masks when not in use. If you no longer have the original package, storing your clean and dry mask in a new paper bag or a sealed plastic storage bag will keep it clean from contaminants. (Do NOT put a wet mask in a sealed plastic bag.)

N95 Respirators

According to the US CDC, N95 respirators and surgical masks are critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders. However, if you have N95 respirators that you acquired before the pandemic, here are some tips on how to wear them and answers to some commonly asked questions. Please always be sure to read and follow the User Instructions.

Tips for how to wear N95 respirators

N95 Respirator FAQ’s

Click here to see all FAQs

  • A: An N95 respirator or similar respirator is intended to seal tightly to the face, covering the mouth and nose, and can filter at least 95% of airborne particles, including those that may contain viruses and bacteria. The entire surface of the respirator is a filter, which makes it very efficient at capturing airborne particles.

    To get a NIOSH approved “N95” designation, a respirator must filter at least 95% of non-oily particles, including very small particles that can’t be seen (such as a virus) during careful testing. It’s important to remember that a properly fitted respirator is intended to reduce your exposure but not eliminate it completely.

    N95 respirators play a crucial role for healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers on the front lines of the COVD-19 pandemic.

  • A: KN95s are disposable respirators that are tested and certified to a China government standard (GB2626). The required filtration efficiency is very similar to that required for U.S. N95 disposable respirators; however, they are not approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). There are some respirators that have both the NIOSH N95 and the China KN95 approval on the same model.

    Many KN95 respirators have a construction called “vertical flatfold,” which is not as commonly seen in the U.S. These respirators are packaged flat, with a vertical fold down the middle, but open up into a cup shape.

    While N95 respirators feature headbands, KN95 respirators may feature both headbands or ear loops.

    KN95 respirators are typically designed to fit people with facial features common in China. As a result, some individuals with different facial features may not be able to achieve a satisfactory fit. U.S. workers may experience fit test pass rates that are lower than they are accustomed to. If a fit test cannot be conducted – or the wearer cannot pass a fit test-then these products should be used as a face covering/mask, not a respirator. If appropriate fit can be attained, KN95s can help reduce exposures to airborne particles that is similar to that of N95 respirators. You can learn more about KN95 respirators here.

How 3M™ Disposable Respirators filter out airborne particulates

3M Disposable respirators