What is the Difference Between Level 1, 2 & 3 Face Masks?

What is the Difference Between Level 1, 2 & 3 Face Masks?

The choice of an appropriate face mask is now more crucial than ever as face mask is the necessary tool to combat coronavirus in the currency settings. It has become the most used product in our daily lives.  While purchasing face masks, don’t choose the cheapest or easily accessible low quality masks available in the market. Invest your time and resources to get an effective mask which provides highest protection against harmful germs. 

All masks are not safe to use, only those masks are effective that possess an ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) grade or are verified from a reputable source. ASTM grade ensures that the masks provide essential protection, and reduces the risk of toxic infections. 

Levels of Face Masks

There are three levels of face masks. 

  • Level 1 refers to low barrier protection 
  • Level 2 refers to moderate barrier protection 
  • Level 3 refers to  maximum barrier protection 
Guidelines for choosing the right face mask
  • If you’re surrounded by a crowd, or any sick family member or suffering from any disease, you are required to use a high filtration mask i.e. N95 Respirator.

  • When you are supposed to experience bodily fluid splatter or blood, it is preferred to use the Level 3 fluid-resistant face mask to ensure safety.

  • Face masks come in a variety of styles in terms of ties or loops. If you are required to wear masks all the time,  you must use face masks having ear loops and ignore masks with ties. 

  • It is important to fix the mask properly, in case if the mask is loose, then there lies a risk of exposure to germs. It is necessary to protect the nose and mouth with a face mask covering. The gaps should be eliminated carefully while wearing a mask.


Performance Metrics

The core performance metrics that are tested to figure out the protection level of a face masks are mentioned as follows:

  • Fluid Resistance – Test ASTM F1862
    This metric gauges the resistance of a medical face mask to synthetic blood penetration. The mask is approved or disapproves based on visual results of synthetic blood penetration.
  • Breathability – Test MIL-M-36954 C: ΔP
    This test evaluates the resistance of face masks to airflow.  A minimum breathing resistance provides a better level of comfort to the user while ensuring protection against germs.
  • Bacterial Filtration (BFE) – Test ASTM F2101
    Bacterial filtration test determines the ratio of bacteria (>3 microns) that is filtered out by the face mask. 
  • Particulate Filtration (PFE) – Test ASTM F2299
    Particulate filtration test determines the ratio of particles (>1 micron) that is filtered out by the face mask. 
  • Flammability – Test 16 CFR Part 1610: Flame Spread
    Flammability test uncovers the material of face mask to a flame and evaluates the time required for the flame to affect the material at a distance 5 inches. 


Protection provided by ASTM-graded face mask

The face masks are graded high and provide high protection if they are more resistant in terms of above-explained testing metrics. Face masks safeguards nose pathways and mouth against sprays of blood and saliva. But face masks do not ensure respiratory protection against airborne diseases. 

Role of respirator

A respirator refers to a protective tool that covers the face i.e. nose and mouth,  to minimize the risk of inhaling toxic airborne particles (including dust particles and virus agents),  hazardous gases or vapors. The FDA approved respirator known as N95 Respirator, is the most used respirator which gives 95 percent protection against airborne particles.


It is highly recommended to wear face masks properly to fight against the rapid transmission of harmful infections especially coronavirus. It is of great importance to analyze the various types of face masks available in the market before purchasing. Always go for the face mask that is most suitable as per you need and comfort. To sum up, the ASTM level 1 face mask is good enough for regular use if you do not encounter symptoms of coronavirus and maintain a social distance of 6 feet from people. It is inevitable to keep in mind that even the ASTM level 2 or 3 face mask will not ensure full protection in case you are surrounded by infectious people, they only reduce the risk. N95  face masks serve best in this case. According to WHO, it is advised to wash your hands frequently and follow all the precautionary measures to combat coronavirus.