Surgical Masks vs Respirators: Which to Choose?

Surgical Masks vs Respirators: Which to Choose?


When it comes to choosing the right face mask, we’re faced with a number of great options. However, with these many options, comes the question of which is better for you and your loved ones. In this case, which should you choose – surgical masks or respirators?

For many of us, surgical masks and respirators have the same purpose: to filter out the particles in the air we breathe. However, there’s more to them than meets the eye. And this article seeks to explore the suitability of both surgical masks and respirators.

What is a Surgical Mask?

A surgical mask is a disposable face mask that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose and potential contaminants in the air. These masks are intended to be worn by healthcare professionals during surgery to protect the environment from the wearer instead of protecting the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles.

For a face mask to carry an ASTM rating, the United States’s Food and Drugs Administration body (FDA) requires that the mask be tested in three aspects: barrier (bacterial filtration, particle filtration, and synthetic blood), physical (differential pressure), and safety (flammability, microbial cleanliness, and biocompatibility).

For instance, surgical masks like MEDICOS’ HydroCharge series offer higher levels of protection, thanks to their filtration technology that embeds water electret charge deep into the filters.

What are Respirators?

Unlike surgical masks, respirators are designed to fit tight to the face to create a seal around the mouth and nose. They are commonly used in high-risk settings such as in facilities that manage contagious infections, toxic fumes and crowded spaces with a high risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

That said, respirators undergo a different set of testing and are often tested by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Hazard (NIOSH). The test parameters include aerosol and oil particulates filtration, fitting, and breathability. ASTM ratings generally do not apply to respirators except for Medical-Use only.

For instance, respirators like MEDICOS’ M99 series offer high levels of protection against airborne particles, thanks to their 3D facial-fitting design and 5-layer protection, consisting of 3-layer filters.

Types of Respirators

MEDICOS offers several types of respirators, and among them, the M99 series is uniquely designed to provide varying functional aspects with 5-layer protection and HydroChargeTM filtration technology.

M99 PRO Respirators

Designed with adjustable ear loops for users to tug and pull for an optimum fit on their face.


Designed with ultra-soft ear loops and wider lip space for long hours of use.


Designed for the fashion-conscious as M99 Flip offers style and protection in one face mask.

Designed for the fashion-conscious as M99 Flip offers style and protection in one face mask.

Suitability of Surgical Masks & Respirators

Surgical masks can prevent droplets of saliva or secretions from the upper respiratory tract from spreading into the air when the wearer exhales. This protects those around them from inhaling potentially contaminated air.

However, most surgical masks come in 3 layers, which offer a lower level of protection when used in healthcare facilities. For it to be able to protect the wearer from infection transmitted by droplets or risk of biological fluids, the surgical mask must have a fluid resistance outer layer.

Respirators are designed to fit tight to the face, with some offering five layers of filtration. It can protect the wearers from exposure to airborne particles and biological aerosols, including viruses and bacteria.

But like surgical masks, respirators should be discarded when damaged or deformed, no longer forms an effective seal to the face, becomes wet or visibly dirty, breathing through it becomes more difficult, or becomes contaminated with blood, respiratory or nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids.

Which Face Mask to Choose?

There are several criteria to consider when choosing a face mask, such as application, the required level of protection, breathability, and comfort.


Wearers should be able to discern which mask to wear depending on the profession, the field of application, and the presence of infectious diseases. For instance, healthcare professionals wear surgical masks, whereas construction, steel mill, oil and gas operators are encouraged to wear respirators.

Required Level of Protection

Each type of face mask we mentioned is subject to different standards and regulations, which determine their level of protection. For instance, the surgical mask is subject to ASTM standards, whereas respirators are subject to regional standards.


The breathability of a face mask generally affects the comfort of the user. When high-performance material combines with advanced filter technology, it can provide optimum breathability and comfort.


Face masks are available in different sizes to ensure optimum comfort for the wearer. In fact, most surgical masks only come in one size, while MEDICOS HydroCharge face mask comes in two sizes — slim and regular fits, whereas respirators come in one size and can be equipped with adjustable earloops such as the M99 PRO.

With these considerations in mind, you will need to wear a suitable type of mask based on your environment. For instance, wearing a respirator in crowded spaces enhances the level of protection you get with minimal social distancing. Meanwhile, you can wear a surgical mask in an environment with good ventilation and sufficient social distancing.

Looking for high-quality face masks and respirators? Visit MEDICOS today!

We all want to protect ourselves from airborne diseases, and choosing the right face mask manufacturer in Malaysia is one step to doing so. MEDICOS is here to ensure everyone who uses our face masks returns home safely. Continue to stay safe with MEDICOS face masks. What are you waiting for? contact us today for more information.