Mask vs. Respirator: What’s the difference?

Masks and respirators play an important role in employee protection. But did you know they protect against completely different elements? There is a time and a place for both masks and respirators. This blog will go over the elements each protect against, the importance of respirator fit tests and what your employees should be wearing in the workplace.


A respirator is a type of PPE (personal protective equipment) protecting against large and small particles of airborne infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, anthrax, COVID, and SARS. Respirators have different makes, models, and sizes. An important factor to note is the respirator your employees use must be individually selected to fit their face and provide a tight seal. This is why respirator fit testing was created. A proper seal between the user’s face and the respirator forces inhaled air to be pulled through the respirator’s filter material, and not through gaps between the user’s face and the respirator.

Masks can be worn by anyone, but respirators have to be specially fitted to each employee. Respirator fit testing is a requirement of OSHA, DOH, MSHA, the EPA, and many other employee safety organizations. Employers must use NIOSH-certified respirators according to OSHA’s respiratory protection standard.


A mask is a loose-fitting, disposable PPE that covers your nose and mouth. Think of surgical masks, dental masks, medical procedure masks, and isolation masks.

Rather than protecting against small airborne particles, masks protect the wearer from large droplets, splashes, or sprays. Their main purpose is to stop large droplets from being spread by the person wearing them.

Face masks are not designed or certified to seal tightly against your face or to prevent the inhalation of small airborne contaminants. During inhalation, small airborne contaminants pass through gaps between the face and the face mask and the material of the mask. Remember, face masks are not considered respirators and they do not provide respiratory protection.


We’re the 38-year experts for the job! Mobile Health helps employers create respiratory protection programs from scratch. We can advise you on which respirators and masks your employees need and make sure you’re meeting your industry’s compliance standards. Plus, we’re the nation’s #1 provider for respirator fit testing. There is no better team to rely on for your respirator fit test needs. Talk to an expert at Mobile Health today.