ASTM Masks: bttn’s Product of the Month

In the last few years, as a layered approach to managing COVID-19, the use of face masks has skyrocketed. Long gone are the days where only doctors and patients wear masks. Masks are in season and will be for a long while. 

As a member of the medical community, it’s your job to keep your patients safe. Part of that involves having the appropriate gear — scrubs, gloves, and face masks. Let’s dive into what top-notch safety looks like for masks and why ASTM-rated masks are the preferred approach. 

What is ASTM?

The American Society of Testing and Materials International (ASTM), is one of the world's largest international standards developing organizations. It both defines and sets global standards in various systems, materials, and services to improve lives.  

What separates ASTM masks from other masks?

Face masks play an integral role in reducing the spread of infections by blocking the transmission of particles from one person to another. One recent study on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 found that there was a 70% reduced risk of infection for those aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt due to wearing face masks. 

It’s not a question of whether or not masks work, but rather, which one is the best.

Answer: Those that are ASTM approved.

ASTM masks are regulated – you know what to expect when purchasing an ASTM-certified mask rather than a regular cloth mask. ASTM’s process of approval requires masks to be tested by an accredited laboratory, comply with design guidelines, have proper user instructions, and pass in-depth performance tests. 

ASTM Masks Performance Test

ASTM F2100 is the standard that encompasses the test method and performance requirements for mask material. The goal of performance tests for ASTM masks is to ensure all people – not just those in the medical field – are properly outfitted for the environment to which they are exposed. The safety of the mask wearer is of the utmost importance. Performance tests measure the bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE), particulate filtration efficiency (PFE), differential pressure, resistance to synthetic blood, and flammability of the mask. 

  • Differential Pressure — How breathable is the mask?
  • Particulate Filtration Efficiency — How well does the mask filter submicron particles? 
  • Resistance to Penetration by Synthetic Blood — How well does the mask block the transfer of fluids from the outer layers to the inner layers?
  • Flammability — Can the mask resist a flame exposure for at least 3 seconds? 
  • Bacterial Filtration Efficiency — How efficient is the face mask at filtering bacteria?


ASTM Level 1 ASTM Level 2 ASTM Level 3
Bacterial Filtration Efficiency @ 3 μm ≥ 95% ≥ 98% ≥ 98%
Differential Pressure (mm H 2 2 O/cm ) < 4.0 < 5.0 < 5.0
Sub-Micron Particulate Filtration @ 1 μm ≥ 95% ≥ 98% ≥ 98%
Resistance to Penetration by Synthetic 80 120 160
Flammability Class 1 Class 1 Class 1

Source: Kansas Department of Health and Environment

How do I decide which ASTM mask is right for me?

The short answer for deciding between the three levels of ASTM masks is to consider how much fluid exposure you need to protect against. If the answer is none or minimal, go with Level 1. If you’re are in an environment where there will be lots of fluid exposure, or the potential of it occurring, go with an ASTM Level 3 mask. 

ASTM Level 1 — Low protection

ASTM Level 1 masks are best used for procedures in which there are no splashes or sprays expected — low risk of fluid exposure. 

ASTM Level 2 — Moderate protection

Procedures, where there’s a potential for splashes or sprays — moderate risk of fluid exposure — would be best suited for ASTM Level 2 masks

ASTM Level 3 — Maximum protection

Situations in which there’s a high risk for sprays and fluids — the operating room — are best suited for Level 3 ASTM masks.

What mask should patients wear to protect themselves from the spread of COVID-19?

For maximum protection against COVID-19, it’s advised that patients wear ASTM Level 3 masks. In doing so, patients will receive the maximum barrier protection no matter if they are in the doctor’s office or at the grocery store. 

When is it time for a new face mask?

To ensure all parties are practicing the highest of safety measures it’s important to have personal protective equipment, masks included, that will hold up effectively. 

In some instances — the operating room —  this means a new surgical mask each and every time you step foot into the room. While for others — going to pick kids up from school — reusable face masks can be worn again or simply washed between uses.  

For instances in which masks are potentially worn more than once, be sure to inspect the condition of the mask before reusing it. The life of a mask depends on the environment, the amount of nasal discharge, the humidity levels, and the respiration levels of the mask-wearer.

A good rule-of-thumb is if the mask is torn or wet, it’s time for a new one. Wet masks cannot maintain the same level of filtration as new, clean masks can, therefore exposing both the mask wearer and others. Just like wet masks cannot maintain the same level of filtration, torn masks cannot block the exposure to and from pathogens. If your mask is wet or torn, swap it out for a new one!


doctor putting on astm mask


How do I know if my ASTM mask is reusable?

ASTM masks that are reusable will be labeled as such on the packaging. Rest assured, these masks have gone through rigorous testing to ensure the filtration and breathability will continue to uphold ASTM’s standards after multiple washings and wears.

To be considered a “reusable” mask according to ASTM standards, a total of 20 face masks will be tested. The first 10 masks will be tested right out of the packaging. While the other 10 will go through the maximum number of laundering cycles the manufacturer listed on the packaging before being tested. Once all 20 masks have been tested, if the filtration and breathability of the face masks still stands, they will be marked as reusable. 

How do I know my mask meets ASTM standards?

ASTM International has created a standard for barrier face coverings (BFC). The F3502-21 standard measures masks based on their filtration efficiency (how well the BFC blocks particles going through), breathability (how easy it is to breathe through), re-use potential (only for those marked “reusable”), and leakage (how well it prevents particles entering/leaving around the edges). 

View the full list of barrier face coverings that have been approved and evaluated according to the ASTM standard barrier face covering (not just health care specific).

How do I make sure my ASTM mask fits properly?

A properly secured medical face mask should do more than just cover your mouth and nose. The mask should fit snug around the bridge of the nose and not have any extra gaps around the side of the face. If there is extra room, try the “knot and tuck” technique using the ear loop to secure the fitting and increase your level of protection.

Maintaining the health of yourself, your coworkers, and your patients is of the utmost importance. Make sure you’re prepared whether it’s another COVID-19 outbreak or a routine orthodontist check-up. Use bttn to supply your practice with more affordable products, in less time than a normal distributor! 

Which is better ASTM level 3 or n95?

ASTM Level 3 masks and N95 respirators each serve a purpose. Depending on the situation and the protection needed, would ultimately dictate which option one chooses. 

What is the difference between a surgical mask and a procedure mask?

  • Surgical masks are sterile and have adjustable ties to ensure proper fit 
  • Procedure masks come in three different levels of protection, but are not sterile. 

What level mask should dental hygienist wear?

  • If doing a fluid-free examination, Level 1 masks are acceptable.
  • For procedures where fluid exposure is likely to occur, Level 3 masks are recommended. 

Are ASTM masks medical grade?

Medical-grade masks are those designed as PPE for medical professionals who need proper protection against contaminants when dealing with patients. They are regulated by the FDA and must meet strict criteria. 

Best ASTM level 3 surgical mask?

Since all ASTM level 3 masks have to go be approved in order to be classified as a level 3 surgical mask, they all have the same level of filtration and protection. Therefore the best surgical mask would come down to personal preference – price, ear loops, color, and brand. Defender Safety and Halyard are two of the many great options available.


The information provided by bttn on this website is not medical advice, and all materials on this website, including text and images, are for educational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for advice from a professional healthcare provider.