Before the world got hit hard by COVID-19, we did not know much about face masks. Most of us tended to believe that they are all created the same, with slight differences in designs. However, as we started to understand how crucial face masks play a role in containing the pandemic, we understand that all masks are not equal, with some not being able to do much to prevent the spread of the virus.
We then experienced the severe shortage of the supply of face masks, but then the next challenge comes - there are a lot of mask-related terms that indicate the level of protection each provides, and it can be confusing. One of the most used terms is ASTM, a standard put forward by ASTM International, a global organisation that develops and publishes technical standards for an expansive array of products, materials, systems and services. Today, more than 12,800 ASTM standards are in use around the world, including ASTM F2100-11, a standard for medical face masks since 2012.
Fortunately, for masks rated with ASTM F2100-11, there are only three levels, with each level detailing the rating for the barrier performance of the material.
In short, the higher level it is, the more protection it provides; from level 1 offering protection for those who run low risks of fluid exposure, to level 3 made for those who have the highest risks of being exposed to bodily fluid.
Want a more detailed explanation? We got it covered as well. Each mask is rated for the following five functions.
Fluid Resistance – Test ASTM F1862
This tests the resistance of a medical face mask to penetration by a small volume (~2 mL) of synthetic blood at a high velocity (80 mmHg, 120 mmHg, or 160 mmHg). It either passes or fails.
Breathability – Test MIL-M-36954 C: ΔP
The face mask’s resistance to airflow is taken into consideration. A controlled flow of air is driven through the mask, and the pressure before and after is measured. The difference in pressure is divided by the surface (in cm2) of the sample. The lower breathing resistance there is a better comfort level for the user.
Bacterial Filtration (BFE) – Test ASTM F2101
This test measures the percentage of bacteria larger than 3 microns filtered out by the mask. The challenge material used is Staphylococcus aureus.
Particulate Filtration (PFE) – Test ASTM F2299
This test measures the percentage of particles larger than 1 micron filtered out by the mask. The challenge material used consists of latex aerosol concentrations in a controlled airflow chamber.
Flammability – Test 16 CFR Part 1610: Flame Spread
This test exposes the face mask material to a flame and measures the time required for the flame to proceed up the material a distance of 127 mm (5 inches). Class 1 means the material exhibits normal flammability and is acceptable for use in clothing.
Do I need a level-3 mask?
Both level 2 and level 3 masks filter out 98% of BFE and PFE, which should give you sufficient protection; meaning that As long as the mask you are wearing carries the ASTM rating, you can be assured that you’re getting almost the perfect coverage against the virus.
Our online shop has an array of colorful face masks that brighten up the otherwise dull mask game, and all of them carry at least level 2 protection - so if you opt for a more colorful but as safe option, check our collection out!