The ASTM Face Mask Standard Is Here: Full Details on Labels, User Instructions and More
After a period finalizing the last details, ASTM International has released its final face mask standards for consumer masks.
The Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings, a first of its kind at a time when face masks are everywhere, creates criteria regarding construction, fit, manufacturing and use for non-medical masks.
While N95 respirators and other medical masks are subject to strict standards, the market for consumer masks has been the wild west. Most of the guidance for consumers has boiled down to common sense, with the primary advice being "anything is better than nothing," and eventually that the more layers of protection, the better.
For the promotional industry, which has relied heavily on mask sales throughout the pandemic, it creates a new certification standard that, if adopted, could give products more credibility with buyers. If a product meets all specifications, it can include a label that it “meets ASTFM F3502.”
Specifically, it will say this:
MEETS ASTM F3502, SPECIFICATION FOR BARRIER FACE COVERINGS, THIS PRODUCT IS PRIMARILY INTENDED AS A MEANS OF SOURCE CONTROL FOR MINIMIZING THE PROJECTION OF EXPELLED MATERIALS FROM THE WEARER’S NOSE AND MOUTH. WARNING: THIS BARRIER FACE COVERING IS NOT A MEDICAL FACE MASK AS DEFINED IN ASTM F2100, IS NOT INTENDED FOR USE IN MEDICAL PROCEDURES, AND IS NOT A RESPIRATOR.
In order to receive that label—which will no doubt be valuable within the industry just like UL-certification is for electronics or FDA certification is in food and drink—manufacturers put their products through a test that measures particle filtration and respiration resistance.
To pass the certification, the mask has to have “sub-micron particulate filtration efficiency greater than or equal to 20%” and “airflow resistance on inhalation less than or equal to 15 mm H2O.”
The testing process will include testing 10 of each face covering product in new condition and, for reusable masks, an additional 10 masks after the recommended limit of laundering as laid out by the manufacturer.
In addition to the filtration and breathing standards, there are several design requirements that each product must meet:
- Designed to cover at least the nose and mouth, and fit snugly where it contacts the user’s face and reduce gaps
- Parts of the mask that contact the skin must be made of non-irritating and nontoxic materials.
- It must be free of sharp edges, sharp points or burrs
- It must be designed constructed with materials and in a way that it will not be damaged by ordinary use.
- For reusable masks, the products must not be damaged after laundering and cleaning as directed by the manufacturer
- The masks cannot have vents, valves or any other “pathways” as part of the design
- If it has replaceable filters, it needs to have “means for preventing improper placement of the filters.”
Each product also must include user instructions, including how to select the correct size and adjust the fit if a applicable; how to put it on and take it off; if and how it can be worn in another orientation if applicable; if reusable, how it should be cleaned and how many times it can be cleaned before needing to be replaced; and conditions of storage and shelf life if not used immediately.
This certification would add some semblance of order to the chaotic nature of the face mask boom.
“If you go into a store and buy a mask, you generally have no idea what you’re getting,” Dan Smith, vice president of technical committee operations for ASTM, told NBC News. “But if you go into a store and purchase a face mask that’s labeled, saying it meets the ASTM standard, you can understand what you’re getting and that you’re getting a certain level of protection.”
“Not all face masks are created equal,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told NBC. “By creating standards for masks for the general public, people can begin to figure out what they can wear to keep them and those around them the most protected.”
ASTM International has made its Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings available to the public at no cost, accessible here.
For more details on the standard, view our previous coverage here.