Measurement of filtration efficiencies of healthcare and consumer materials using modified respirator fit tester setup

PLoS One. 2020 Oct 13;15(10):e0240499. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0240499. eCollection 2020.


During the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic there is unprecedented demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), especially N95 respirators and surgical masks. The ability of SARS-CoV-2 to be transmitted via respiratory droplets from asymptomatic individuals has necessitated increased usage of both N95 respirators in the healthcare setting and masks (both surgical and homemade) in public spaces. These precautions rely on two fundamental principles of transmission prevention: particle filtration and droplet containment. The former is the focus of NIOSH N95 testing guidelines, and the latter is an FDA guideline for respirators and surgical masks. While studies have investigated droplet containment to provide guidance for homemade mask production, limited work has been done to characterize the filtration efficiency (FE) of materials used in home mask making. In this work, we demonstrate the low-cost (<$300) conversion of standard equipment used to fit-test respirators in hospital and industrial settings into a setup that measures quantitative FEs of materials based on NIOSH N95 guidelines, and subsequently measure FEs of materials found in healthcare and consumer spaces. These materials demonstrate significant variability in filtration characteristics, even for visually similar materials. We demonstrate a FE of 96.49% and pressure drop of 25.4 mmH20 for a double-layer of sterilization wrap used in surgical suites and a FE of 90.37% for a combination of consumer-grade materials. The excellent filtration characteristics of the former demonstrate potential utility for emergent situations when N95 respirators are not available, while those of the latter demonstrate that a high FE can be achieved using publicly available materials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Air Filters / standards*
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Equipment Safety / instrumentation
  • Equipment Safety / methods*
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Masks / standards*
  • Materials Testing / instrumentation
  • Materials Testing / methods*
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Personal Protective Equipment / standards*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Respiratory Protective Devices / standards*
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Aerosols