All surgical masks are considered disposable masks, but not all disposable masks fall into the category of surgical masks. So, what is the disposable mask vs surgical mask difference? And how do you know which type of mask is right for you?
With COVID-19 still a threat in many communities, people have not stopped wearing masks in order to protect themselves–and others–from the deadly virus. Hence, choosing the right type of mask is still of utmost importance, not only for shielding yourself from COVID-19 but also from other airborne illnesses.
Similarly, choosing the right type of mask is a crucial matter in many industries, especially those that involve close contact with other people (e.g. medical and dentistry). This is regardless of the presence of a pandemic, but it has become even more important during these times.
All that said, let’s talk about the surgical mask vs disposable mask debate. To determine which type of mask is the best one for you, we have to find the difference between a disposable mask vs surgical mask. But before that, let’s answer this ever-present question:
Why Does It Matter What Type Of Face Mask You Use?
As you probably know by now, not all face masks are made equal. There are several different types of face masks that are designed to protect one from airborne illnesses. Each of these types has varying characteristics and provides different levels of protection against disease.
More than that, face masks within the same category also vary in quality and effectiveness, depending on the brand you choose.
With all that in mind, choosing the right type of face mask determines how much protection you have against COVID-19 and other contagious diseases. So, how do you know which kind of face mask is the best one to use?
First, let’s determine the differences between a surgical vs disposable mask.
Surgical Masks vs Disposable Masks: Is There A Difference?
As we’ve mentioned earlier, surgical masks are disposable masks, but not all disposable masks are surgical masks. For a better understanding of these two masks, let’s delve into their differences and similarities:
What Are Surgical Masks?
Surgical masks are also known as medical masks or procedure masks. This type of mask is designed to protect the wearer from large-particle droplets, sprays, and splashes. They are also meant to prevent the transmission of respiratory secretions from person to person, which makes them a relatively effective measure against COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.
Traditionally, surgical masks are used for healthcare procedures, particularly those that involve close contact with patients. However, surgical masks are also used in industries beyond healthcare, such as food service and manufacturing, to prevent the wearer from contaminating their products.
Moreover, surgical masks are now the most common type of mask used as a preventive measure for COVID-19. Inexpensive and widely available, surgical masks have become the primary tool for protection during the pandemic, for healthcare professionals and non-healthcare professionals alike.
What Are Disposable Masks?
Disposable masks include surgical masks and respirators. A respirator provides better protection against airborne illnesses since it can filter both large droplets and small particle aerosols. Moreover, it is tight-fitting, unlike a surgical mask, which helps prevent particles from entering through the gaps between one’s face and the mask.
From the name itself, disposable face masks are meant to be discarded after one use. But you’re probably wondering, can disposable face masks be reused?
Luckily, the answer is ‘yes’! You can reuse a disposable face mask if it is not too soiled or damaged. All you have to do is leave it unused for at least 7 days to allow the coronavirus to die out naturally on the surface.
You can do this with both surgical masks and respirators like N95s and KN95s. However, the reusability of respirators is far greater than that of surgical masks. This is because surgical masks are less durable and typically made with simpler quality materials than N95s.
Surgical Masks vs Disposable Masks: Choosing The Right Type For Your Needs
When it comes to the surgical mask vs disposable mask debate, there is really not a huge difference. Surgical masks are disposable masks. But not all disposable masks are considered surgical masks. With that being said, how do you know which one is the most suitable for your needs?
To answer that question, let’s talk compare the characteristics of a surgical vs disposable mask:
Surgical masks are typically made from several layers (usually three) of non-woven fabric, as well as disposable materials like polystyrene and polyethylene.
Since surgical masks are inexpensive, they are not extremely durable. Hence, you might find surgical masks easy to tear or crumple. If you aren’t careful, it is easy to damage a surgical face mask and render it useless, which is the main reason why most surgical masks are typically only meant to be used once.
Disposable masks like respirators, on the other hand, are also made from nonwoven fabric, but they are thicker and stronger than surgical masks. This is what makes them more reusable than surgical face masks. But more importantly, the higher level of durability that respirators provide also make them more effective.
Surgical masks fit loosely on the face, typically leaving gaps around the sides or the bottom. In non-hazardous applications, this loose fit does not greatly affect the effectiveness of surgical masks. However, when it comes to healthcare applications (e.g. surgery, dentistry), these gaps can decrease one’s protection against droplets and sprays.
Hence, we recommend face masks that completely cover the mouth and nose - with no surrounding gaps - for applications wherein the risk of encountering droplets is low. In the foodservice industry, for example, the main purpose of wearing a mask is to prevent a worker’s respiratory emissions from contaminating food. A surgical face mask is enough to serve that purpose.
It’s a different story for applications where the risk of transmission is high, such as in healthcare. For instance, a dentist works extremely close to a patient’s mouth and nose. During dental procedures, there is a high risk of saliva and other bodily fluids spraying into the air as either large droplets or small particle aerosols.
In this case, a respirator is a much better choice. Respirators provide a tighter fit on the face, leaving little to no gaps where particles can pass through. Aside from that, respirators provide better filtration than surgical masks, making them better at protecting the wearer against airborne contaminants.
Both surgical masks and disposable respirators can become uncomfortable after a long time of wearing them. However, surgical masks tend to be more comfortable overall because of their looser fit and softer materials.
Respirators, on the other hand, usually start to feel too restricting after a certain period of time. This is why most people prefer to wear surgical masks unless they are performing high-risk applications.
Nevertheless, both of these masks can be comfortable if you know how to wear a face mask properly. The mask should fit snugly on your face (but not too tightly), with the nose wire bent just right. You can also prevent discomfort by using a mask hook to secure the elastic on the back of your head instead of on your ears.
Final Thoughts On Surgical Masks vs Disposable Masks
All that said, let’s settle the surgical mask vs disposable mask debate:
When it comes to choosing the right type of mask, it all boils down to the intended purpose and the environment you will be working in. In general, if there is a high risk of illness transition, a higher-quality disposable mask with a higher filtration rate and tighter fit is the best choice.
But for general, low-risk applications, a surgical mask provides enough protection. Plus, it is inexpensive, making it an economical choice for most businesses.
If you need both types of face masks, then you’re in the right place! We are the leading PPE shop online for not just dentists, but mechanics, doctors, and more. We have surgical masks made in the USA and all sorts of other mask types, too - for those who don’t need N95 respirators, including children’s masks and sensitive earloop masks.