FFP2 masks: tips for private individuals

To protect yourself, it is mandatory to wear an FFP2 mask when shopping or on the bus. We explain what you should pay attention to

FFP2 masks must fit snugly in order to protect the wearer. Otherwise, the air will flow unfiltered around the mask

© F1online GmbH / Josep Suria

This article reflects the current state of knowledge as of the date specified. It is updated regularly according to the latest knowledge.

The number of infections in Germany is still very high. And in principle, infections can easily occur wherever people come close - especially in closed rooms. It can also become critical if many people spend a long time in a room, for example when shopping or on local public transport.

So far, most federal states have therefore relied on the general requirement to wear mouth and nose protection. An everyday mask made of fabric was one of them. What all these masks have in common is that they protect other people in particular from your own viruses if you are infected yourself. Some more, some less effective. If everyone goes along with this, there is a certain protection for every person, is the rationale behind it. But you see again and again people without masks in buses, trains and retail, where masking is actually compulsory. The bad compromise is also popular: a mask over the mouth, the nose uncovered. That no longer protects anyone.

In order to better protect themselves, more and more people are turning to the so-called FFP2 masks. All over Germany, these masks will even be mandatory in shops and public transport from January 19, 2021.

You can find out what a mask requirement can bring in our podcast

What does FFP mean?

The "filtering face pieces", particle filtering half masks - as FFP masks are actually called in English - were originally designed as dust masks. In occupational safety, they are part of what is known as "personal protective equipment".

FFP masks have been used in the medical field for a long time. The generic term "medical mouthguard" has become established for FFP masks and surgical (operating room) masks. Nurses or medical staff can protect themselves with FFP masks when treating sick people and coming into close contact with them.

How do FFP2 masks work?

The FFP2 masks are primarily used to protect the wearer, as the website of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) makes clear. In tests, the masks are checked to determine how much aerosol and smaller droplets with an average size of 0.6 micrometers pass through the mask. Their protective function is standardized across Europe by the DIN EN 149: 2009-08 standard. According to this standard, the FFP2 masks have to filter 95 percent of the particles. There is a special filter layer in the mask, which is electrostatically charged. This not only traps the larger particles, but also removes the significantly smaller but dangerous aerosol droplets from the air inhaled and exhaled.

There are FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 masks, whereby the number here stands for the different filter performance:

  • FFP1 masks filter 80% or more of the pollutants in the air we breathe
  • FFP2 masks filter 94% or more of the pollutants and aerosols
  • FFP3 masks filter up to 99% of pollutants and aerosols

This is a simplified representation of the filter performance. To protect yourself from SARS-CoV-2, you have to use at least an FFP2 mask.

"These masks are more effective than everyday masks for protecting yourself when you breathe in," says Dominic Dellweg, chief physician for pulmonology at the Grafschaft monastery specialist hospital. "The everyday masks do not have to comply with any standard at all. And they also vary greatly in their filter performance," as Dellweg showed in an as yet unpublished study.

But the President of the Society for Aerosol Research, Christof Asbach, now also warned against misconceptions regarding the safety of FFP2 masks. Even if they would fit perfectly, they would not offer one hundred percent protection, Asbach told the German Press Agency. If the masks filtered 94 percent of the particles as required, 6 percent still passed. "You also generally have to free yourself from the idea that there is one single measure that reduces the risk of infection to zero." It is important to comply with all hygiene measures.

Inadequate: Masks with exhalation valves do not filter the exhaled air, so the external protection is reduced

© ddp Images / Cal Sport Media

Do not use masks with valves!

Even if they are primarily used for self-protection, the FFP2 masks also offer more external protection than everyday masks. This was suggested by a study recently published in the journal "Science Advances". In the study, the type N95 respirators reserved for hospital staff in the United States performed best. They correspond to the FFP2 masks in Europe. The droplets ejected when speaking were reduced to less than 0.1 percent of the amount without a mask for these masks.

However, this only applied if the masks did not have a valve for exhaling. Because the rather rare masks with exhalation valve only filter the inhaled air and therefore offer less protection from others. In the study, surgical masks performed second best overall. Behind them came the everyday masks made of materials such as cotton with very different results.

Our video explains how to put on and take off all types of masks correctly:

Breathing with an FFP2 mask is more strenuous

There are other reasons that speak against the general use of the masks: When breathing, there is an increased resistance due to the filter. The additional effort on the respiratory muscles is comparable to breathing through a snorkel and leads to a feeling of shortness of breath. That is why you should think carefully about which activity you want to do with the mask in front of your face and over what period of time.

"During endurance training, the mask would probably slow you down before you even have any training effect," says Dellweg.

Do children have to wear FFP2 masks?

Basically there are also FFP2 masks for children to buy. Like the adult masks, these should have a CE mark (see below). Since this is actually about occupational safety, there are no time limits as to how long an FFP2 mask can or should be worn by children. There are very few studies on this. If certain situations, such as shopping in a full store, cannot be avoided, FFP2 masks can provide better protection for your child in the short term. The German Society for Child and Adolescent Medicine has issued a detailed statement on the mask requirement in general.

Depending on their age and state, children are exempt from the FFP2 requirement or even from the mask requirement. On our partner portal "Baby und Familie" you will find a list with all federal states and which mask requirements apply for children there.