Choosing what kind of PPE face mask is right for your context can be challenging. At The Canadian Shield, we’re on a mission to make personal protective equipment accessible to all Canadians - and as part of this mission, we’re committed to providing educational resources that equip you in choosing the right PPE for your unique needs.
When looking for a suitable face covering, some of the terms you may hear often are “disposable masks” “procedural masks” and “surgical masks”.
So, what is the difference between each of these terms?
In this article, we’ll focus on defining what each of these terms really mean, compare procedural masks vs. surgical masks and provide the information you need to choose which face covering is right for you.
What is a Disposable Mask?
Disposable masks represent a category of masks intended for one-time use only — Unlike reusable masks, which are often made of cotton or polyester material, disposable masks are not intended to be washed and re-worn. Disposable masks most commonly include procedural, surgical and N95 masks.
Procedural Masks vs. Surgical Masks
Procedural masks are breathable disposable masks designed for one-time use in medical environments, including patient procedures, isolation or dental practices. Procedural masks are traditionally characterized by an ear loop attachment and a coloured outer layer. They are used to protect both patients and staff from the transfer of respiratory droplets by coughing, sneezing or talking.
Conversely, surgical masks are loose-fitting disposable masks designed for one-time use in medical environments. Intended for operating rooms, surgical masks are characterized by surgical ties behind the head and closeness of fit. They are designed to protect the clinician from contaminated fluid or debris generated during procedures.
What Kind of Mask Should I Purchase?
Procedural and Surgical masks are often labelled by their ASTM rating, a certification that measures the performance of the masks against technical standards laid out by the American Society for Testing and Materials. ASTM Level 1, 2 and 3 masks are designed for use in medical environments due to their superior abilities to protect against airborne fluids.
While surgical and procedural masks are traditionally utilized in healthcare settings, their use is becoming increasingly commonplace among consumers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic - particularly procedural masks.
It is important to note that medical face coverings, including medical procedural masks, should be reserved for those in high fluid-risk environments, including frontline and other allied healthcare workers. To equip Canadians at risk, The Canadian Shield offers a full line of Canadian-made procedural masks, including ASTM Level 1, ASTM Level 2, ASTM Level 3.
For lower-risk environments, The Canadian Shield also offers Reusable Cloth Masks or Unrated Procedural Masks. ASTM testing is not required in order for a mask to be both effective and safe for everyday use. When purchased from a trusted source, cloth masks and unrated disposable masks are suitable and affordable face covering alternatives for the general public.