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Bundesministerium für Gesundheit
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20:10 · 30. März 2021

Masking up: FFP2 masks to protect others and yourself

When number of cases is high, community masks are often no longer sufficient. At this point, it has become mandatory to wear FFP2 or other face masks that provide medical protection in public spaces. Find out what you need to know about the masks here.

FFP2 masks protect us all.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, masks have become an integral part of our daily lives. According to the Robert Koch Institute, the virus’ main mode of transmission aside from droplet infection is infection through aerosols. This means that when coughing or sneezing, those infected expel tiny droplets containing viral particles into the environment. If the particles travel through the air and reach the mucous membranes of other people, they could get infected. If a person infected with the coronavirus wears a mask, it contains some of the droplets, so these cannot spread as fast as without protection. Larger droplets fall to the ground relatively quickly and the risk of infection decreases with increasing distance. Therefore, you should keep a minimum distance of 1.5 metres to prevent droplet infection.

Face masks help to slow the spread of viruses

Aerosols are miniscule droplets that are expelled into the environment even when whispering or talking, but more so when speaking loudly, shouting or singing. Aerosols do not fall to the ground nearly as quickly as droplets and, depending on their size, may remain suspended in the air and spread for hours indoors. That means, there is not only a risk of infection if someone nearby coughs in your direction or sneezes. Therefore, a room should be aired regularly by ventilating.

While at the beginning, most people wore cloth masks, the masks most commonly seen now in shops, on buses or trains or at the workplace are medical facemasks (also known as surgical masks) and filtering facepiece respirators (such as FFP2 masks). Surgical, FFP2, FFP3 and KN95/N95 masks are more effective in terms of protection than community masks and were, until now, reserved for medical and nursing staff as well as risk patients. If they seal tightly onto the face, FFP2, FFP3 and KN95/N95 masks especially not only protect against droplet infection, but also provide a high level of protection against aerosols.

Nowadays, however, surgical, FFP2, FFP3 and N95/KN95 masks are also recommended for everyday use and wearing such a mask is mandatory in many places. Especially in situations where it is impossible to always adhere to the distancing rules and several people come together over a longer period of time, surgical and FFP2-, FFP3 and KN95/N95-grade masks provide an increased level of protection against infection that common community masks cannot offer. Those masks differ from community masks in the way they are used and in their purpose.

What characterizes an FFP2 mask and how do I recognise these?

FFP masks primarily protect the wearer against particles, droplets and aerosols. FFP is short for filtering facepiece. In German, the masks are called ‘partikelfiltrierende Halbmasken’ (particulate filtering half masks). The FFP2 mask, which was originally intended as a professional protective mask, is also known as a ‘dust mask’ in the construction industry. It is usually white, often cup-shaped or foldable and comes with or without an exhalation valve. The primary factor, in which FFP masks differ from each other and which affects their designation, is their respective filtering capacity.

Does a mask protect against aerosols?

All FFP masks must be tested and must filter out varying amounts of the test aerosols. FFP1 masks must filter out at least 80%, FFP2 masks at least 94% and FFP3 masks 99% of test aerosols. Testing is performed in line with the European standard EN 149:2001+A1:2009 with aerosols and ensures that the FFP masks available on the market fulfil technical norms and have proven to protect against aerosols. The CE marking shows that an FFP mask has successfully undergone a conformity assessment procedure and is therefore printed on the mask’s surface. A mask’s filtering capacity can only provide its best protection if the mask seals tightly to the face along all its edges.

A mask reminds you not to touch your face

Another possible route of transmission of the coronavirus is smear infection. The virus might, for instance, land on a door handle and, from there, spread to the hand of a person who is not yet infected. If this person then unconsciously touches their mouth or nose with their hand, the virus can be absorbed via the mucous membranes. In this case, too, a mask can reduce the likelihood of an infection – just by reminding its wearer not to touch their face with their hand.

Does an exhalation valve provide better protection against the coronavirus?

In contrast to community masks, FFP2 masks are designed to not only protect others, but also yourself. However, masks with exhalation valves provide a considerably lower level of protection to others than masks without exhalation valves. This is due to the fact that the aerosols exhaled through the exhalation valve are not captured by the filter material, but are only to a certain degree slowed and whirled around by the valve. While self-protection against infection is thus ensured, the people around the wearer of a mask with an exhalation valve are still exposed to his/her aerosols and hence not protected.

Proper handling of an FFP2 mask

Since FFP2 masks used to especially be used in certain professions, both the Robert Koch Institute and the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) have pointed out that laypersons need to make sure that masks are handled properly and fit tightly. To guarantee the full filtering capacity of an FFP2 mask, it is vital that it is worn correctly and forms a tight seal with the face. The following tips will help you ensure you are using masks correctly:

  • The mask must cover your mouth, nose and cheeks. Its edges must form a tight seal with your face so that no air can escape at the sides. When using a new FFP2 mask for the first time, make sure that enough air can pass through so that your normal breathing is inhibited as little as possible.
  • People with beards should know that the beard prevents the FFP2 mask from fitting tightly. Therefore, bearded people benefit from a lower level of protection from aerosols.
  • Avoid touching your mask when wearing it (this also applies to community masks and other types of masks).
  • A mask should be removed and changed as soon as it gets too damp during use. If you remove your mask, please make sure to only handle it by its ties.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after removing the mask
  • Please mind the current rules of conduct. The DHM+A formula still applies: Even when wearing an FFP2 or other medical mask, we must continue to keep our distance from those around us. Please always keep at least 1.5 metres away from others and follow the hygiene rules, such as proper coughing or sneezing (e.g. into a disposable paper handkerchief), thorough hand-washing and regular airing when indoors.
  • Please change your FFP2 mask regularly. A mask should not be worn for a total of more than approximately eight hours.
  • Masks should never be exchanged between people, but always be worn by the same person.

Can I reuse FFP2 masks?

In the professional area of occupational health and safety, FFP masks are intended for single use only. This is due to the fact that trained personnel (such as in medical care or construction) is often exposed to an increased risk of transmission. However, in our daily lives, we are generally exposed to lower pathogen loads. This is why many people decide not to throw their privately used FFP2 masks away after a single use as intended, but to wear them multiple times. Informed by research findings of the Fachhochschule Münster, the BfArM points out that persons, who decide to reuse FFP2 masks in the private sphere, may do so with a low risk as long as they follow certain rules. If you want to reuse your FFP2 masks, you can hang them out to dry (in the meantime, please wear another mask when spending time in public spaces). After seven days, the amount of infectious coronavirus on a mask has decreased to an acceptable level, such that it can once again be reused after that period. Based on the current information, this does not negatively affect the mask’s filtering capacity.