About Facemasks and N95 Respirators

Facemasks and N95 respirators are devices that may help prevent the spread of germs (viruses and bacteria) from one person to another. They are one part of an infection-control strategy that should also include frequent hand washing and social distancing.

The 'N95' designation for respirators means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95% of very small test particles. If properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of face masks.

Facemasks and N95 respirators should not be shared because they may become contaminated with germs (viruses and bacteria) that can be spread between people.

  • If you must have close contact with a sick person (for example, hold a sick infant), spend the least amount of time possible in close contact and try to wear a facemask (for example, surgical mask) or N95 disposable respirator.
  • Wear an N95 respirator if you help a sick person with respiratory treatments using a nebulizer or inhaler in a separate room away from common areas of the house. 
  • Avoid re-using disposable facemasks and N95 respirators, if possible. Used facemasks and N95 respirators should be taken off and placed immediately in the regular trash so they don't touch anything else.
  • If a reusable fabric facemask is used, it should be laundered with normal laundry detergent and tumble-dried in a hot dryer.
  • After you take off a facemask or N95 respirator, clean your hands with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands (hands should be washed if visibly soiled). If soap and water are not available and alcohol-based products are not allowed, other hand sanitizers that do not contain alcohol may be useful.


A facemask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment.

  • If worn properly, a facemask will help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria) from reaching your mouth and nose.
  • Facemasks may also help reduce exposure of others to your saliva and respiratory secretions.
  • While a facemask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, a facemask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures.
  • Facemasks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the facemask and your face.
  • To safely discard a disposable facemask, place it in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. Wash your hands after handling the used mask.

Note: Most facemasks are not intended to be used more than once. If your mask is damaged or soiled, or if breathing through the mask becomes difficult, you should remove the facemask, discard it safely, and replace it with a new one.


An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles. In addition to blocking splashes, sprays and large droplets, the respirator is also designed to prevent the wearer from breathing in very small particles that may be in the air.

However, even a properly fitted N95 respirator does not completely eliminate the risk of illness or death.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the following N95 respirators for use by the general public in public health medical emergencies. These devices are labeled NOT for occupational use:

  • 3MTM Particulate Respirator 8670F
  • 3MTM Particulate Respirator 8612F
  • Pasture Tm F550G Respirator
  • Pasture Tm A520G Respirator

N95 Respirator

  • To work as expected, an N95 respirator requires a proper fit to your face. Generally, to check for proper fit, you should put on your respirator and adjust the straps so that the respirator fits tight but comfortably to your face.
  • For information on proper fit, refer to the manufacturer's instructions.

Note: N95 respirators are not designed for children or people with facial hair. Because a proper fit cannot be achieved on children and people with facial hair, the N95 respirator may not provide full protection.

  • People with chronic respiratory, cardiac, or other medical conditions that make it harder to breathe should check with their healthcare provider before using an N95 respirator because the N95 respirator can require more effort to breathe.
  • ALL FDA-cleared N95 respirators are labeled as single use, disposable devices. If your respirator is damaged or soiled, or if breathing becomes difficult, you should remove the respirator, discard it properly, and replace it with a new one.
  • To safely discard your N95 respirator, place it in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. Wash your hands after handling the used respirator.