[Translate to Englisch:] Qurschnitt durch sowohl eine medizinische und eine nicht-medizinische Maske © Heiko Hofmann

Medical and non-medical masks

The fine(-pored) nuances

The fine(-pored) nuances

[Translate to Englisch:] Oben die medizinische Maske, unten die nicht-medizinische © Heiko Hofmann

Would you know the difference? Is it the number or the shape of the weld spots? Is it the scent, or is there an anti-bacterial coating? The truth is, it is hard to tell!

In the search for measures to reduce the number of infections, high-quality masks have emerged as an important factor.

Now "medical masks" are required in public transport, when shopping and in other indoor places.

With the commercially available FFP2 masks, the matter is relatively straightforward: They are easily recognizable. They have a certain shape, imprint, etc. However, this is not the case with medical masks. Here the “fine” difference is essential: Medical masks are tested and certified to filter usually over 95% of aerosols. Unfortunately, non-medical masks and medical, i.e. certified, masks look confusingly similar.

[Translate to Englisch:] Eine medizinische und eine nicht-medizinische Maske im Querschnitt © Heiko Hofmann

Even the inside does not reveal which one is the real medical mask. The masks cannot be distinguished by the average person (and probably not even by experts either) when visually inspected and touched:

  • Both masks have 3 layers each
  • The colours and the feel of the layers are almost identical
  • And there is no imprint that says anything about it

So what can you do to be on the safe side?

Check the packaging information!

[Translate to Englisch:] Beschriftung der Schachtel von medizinischen Masken © Heiko Hofmann

Medical masks

If you buy the masks in the package, make sure that at least one of these designations is printed on the package (most masks come from China, so the information is usually in English):

  • Medical mask
  • CE label or
  • FDA label (Food and Drug Administration – USA) or
  • ISO 9001 label or
  • Executive Standard YY/Txxxx-20xx

If any of these designations is present, you can be almost sure that the mask conforms to medical standards - provided it is not counterfeited.

[Translate to Englisch:] Aufdruck einer Schachtel mit nicht-medizinischen Masken © Heiko Hofmann

Non-medical masks

These boxes are also often labelled in English (at least when from reputable suppliers who are used to trading with Europe or the USA).

  • Non-medical mask
  • no CE label and
  • no FDA label (Food and Drug Administration – USA) and
  • no ISO 9001 label and
  • Executive Standard GB/T xxxxx-20xx

This manufacturer is honest and states that the mask is non-medical. The following note is revealing: Executive Standard GB/T xxxxx-20xx (Here: GB/T 32610-2016). You can search this term on the internet. The German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) has published a guide (in German) to provide you with information on commercially available masks:  Labelling of commercially available masks

Are non-medical masks worthless?

[Translate to Englisch:] Aufbau einer medizinischen Maske im Detail © Heiko Hofmann

No! They are not worthless. They are just not certified and therefore not approved as "medical masks".

In order to obtain the certification(s) as on the box shown above, certification must be applied for in each country or for the EU as a whole. Each country (or the EU) then checks the suitability: Structure, filter effect, etc. In addition, numerous tests and results by the manufacturer must be submitted. The procedure takes a long time and is very (very, very) costly!

Many manufacturers save themselves these high costs and forgo official certification. They make money faster and simply forgo customers, such as hospitals, who require the certification.

As shown in the example, the non-medical mask is indistinguishable from the medical mask. However: One is certified, the other is not. Unfortunately, the non-medical mask does not offer any figures on the filtering effect either.

    Current rules

    • For your own protection and for the protection of others, wear a medical mask or FFP2 mask wherever the Infektionsschutzgesetz IfSG (German Federal Law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) or the Baden-Württemberg Corona Ordinance mandate it.
    • Always make sure that you wear your mask correctly so it can provide effective protection. Wearing the mask under the nose or failure to adjust the nose clip make the mask ineffective!
    • In all other cases, the non-medical mask protects at least as well as a cloth face mask – maybe even significantly better.
    • When buying a mask, pay attention to the symbols or ask the store's staff!