The Story of the N95 Mask

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The Story of the N95 Mask
The Story of the N95 Mask | Picture Perfect Cleaning

With the world in a pandemic, the N95 Mask has become one of the most desired products on the market. The mask has been the center of political controversies,  has been used as an olive branch to bridge political relationships, and has been caught up in legal battles for price gauging.

What is the N95 Mask? Who, where and when was it invented? Is it actually better than a scarf or a surgical mask? Does it really help protect people from contracting COVID-19? Or does it provide a false sense of security? We will be exploring all these questions in the following blog.

What is the N95 Mask?

Wearing an N95 Mask does not replace washing one’s hands and keeping 2 meters (or 6 feet) apart; However, it certainly does have its benefits.

Not all masks are the same. The N95 Mask is made of tough, yet flexible, non-woven, electrostatic, polypropylene fiber. It reduces 95% of 0.3 micron-particles, meaning that the masks filter out contaminants like dusts, mists and fumes. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), particulates and droplets larger than 0.3 microns will not pass through the barrier.

The “N” of “N95”stands for “Non-Oil,” meaning so long as there are no oil-based particulates present, then the mask can be used in the work environment.

The“95” stands for 95% efficiency. Other masks have a 99% efficiency, and they end in 99. Masks ending in 100 are 99.97% efficient, and they end with 100 in their name. These 100 masks would be considered HEPA quality filtered.

How do we know the effectiveness of the Mask?

In a 2014 study, researchers tested 44 masks, along with the N95 Masks and similar equivalent respirators, surgical and dental masks, general cotton masks, and handkerchiefs. Each mask was tested on particle penetration.

The results proved that the N95 Masks blocked more than 95% of all particles. The surgical mask was around 40% effective, with the dental masks coming in close to 60%. Cotton masks were close to 30% and cotton handkerchiefs ranged from 2%-13% (depending on how many layers).

What are the origins of Mask?

The N95 Mask has a longer history then some might realize. The original mind behind creating a face mask, which, years later, eventually became the N95 Mask, came from a man born in Penang, Malaysia, named Dr Wu Lien Teh.

Dr. Wu Lien Teh, creator of the face mask
Dr. Wu Lien Teh

Dr Wu Lien Teh, was a Cambridge Scholar and was motivated to find a way to protect individuals lives from the plague. His great body of work began in 1910, in China, where some 60,000 people died from a plague outbreak.

To better understand the plague, he performed an autopsy on the body of a plague victim. The assumption was that the plague was being transmitted by flea-infested rats. However, by doing this autopsy, Dr Wu Lien Teh discovered that the epidemic was caused by a pneumonic plague that is transmitted by bodily fluids.

Despite much initial skepticism by the medical community, by 1918, the mask proved to be an invaluable protective gear against the Spanish Flu.

Dr. Wu went on to become one of the world’s leading minds behind controlling flu outbreaks. In 1935, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize. He also had a statue dedicated to him at the Harbin Medical University, the city where he did much of his work.

Dr. Wu Lien Teh inventor of the mask
Dr. Wu Lien Teh Memorial

Who invented the technology for the Mask?

Building upon Dr. Wu’s work, and others along the way, in 1995, a professor at the University of Tennessee, by the name of Peter Tsai patented the technology of the N95 Mask. He first developed the anti-viral, electrostatic technology to prevent the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis.

What made Tsai’s technology so unique and efficient, was that he discovered that a charged medium has 10 times the filtration efficiency of an uncharged medium, meaning that one ply of charged fabric can have the same power as 10 plies of the same uncharged fabric, and better air permeability as well.

Professor Peter Tsai

The N95 Mask, which Tsai designed, has four layers. They are usually made of spun-bond non-woven and thermal bond non-woven fabrics, which have low filtration efficiency and breathing resistance, and primarily work to contain the middle layer.

The middle layer is made of melt-blown, non-woven fabrics. This seals any gas through which the sub-micron particles might be able to pass. The fibre has embedded into it a permanent charge to form an electrostatic charge.

Due to the current situation, with COVID-19, and the major shortage of N95 Masks, Dr Tsai has come out of retirement to help research ways to disinfect single use masks that he originally designed.

“I just want to help people, and just do my job,” Tsai said in an interview with Morning Edition.


Turns out, what looks like such a simple face mask has over one hundred years of research put into it, and more importantly, some truly brilliant minds. We are so grateful for Dr. Wu and Professor Tsai’s incredible work to save so many lives! These two individuals must be celebrated!

We at Picture Perfect Cleaning, in Calgary, Alberta, are extremely grateful for Dr. Wu and Professor Tsai, so that we can deploy our amazing custodians to our clients properties, feeling safe and secure as they clean their facilities.

The Story of the N95 Mask | Picture Perfect Cleaning, Inc. — Calgary, Alberta

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