Why N95 Masks Aren't Perfect

N95 Respirator masks are the most frequently referenced when talking about the best masks you can wear. I love them, obviously, because I manufacture and sell them. But I do have a few gripes with many of the N95 masks found on the market today.

Are N95s worse than surgical masks?

Before diving deep into mask making, here's a quick summary of some of the flaws I found in N95 masks...

  • For one, they are wasteful. N95 masks can waste up to 60% of the material they are pressed from. Compare that to a surgical mask, which is cut from sheets, wasting almost no material in the manufacturing process.
  • Because they are so wasteful, N95 wearers may think they are offsetting the environmental cost by reusing their mask over and over. But this is both unsanitary and unsafe. Would you reuse Kleenex? What about toilet paper?
  • Most situations don’t call for an N95 Mask. A good quality surgical mask from Armbrust is more than enough protection when worn properly.

So, don't believe the hype. N95 masks have gotten mostly good press, but the reality is surgical masks are probably a better option for a lot of situations.

Lloyd, why do you hate N95 masks?

That’s not fair. I don’t hate N95s, I mean, we make them! It would be hard to hate something that you make. I think what people don’t realize about N95s––and the reason Armbrust USA didn’t get into making them right away––is that they just waste so much material. 

Are surgical masks less wasteful than N95s?

For instance, take a sheet of material that we’re going to use, think about that cup respirator, and how that has to be pressed, the whole area around that is unusable. Versus a surgical mask, which, basically, you’re cutting these sheets. It wastes almost nothing.

So from an environmental standpoint, I just don’t love N95 masks. Plus, I feel the reason people want them is just because the press has pushed it up there so much.

But we can reuse N95s. ...Right?

Look. Would you reuse Kleenex? Would you reuse toilet paper? At the beginning of the pandemic, maybe reusing a respirator was something we had to do. But I believe let’s use the appropriate mask for the appropriate situation. And for so many situations, it’s a surgical mask.