What Mask to Choose? Best Masks For Viruses, Air Pollution

Masks can be incredibly effective tools to protect your health from air pollution and viruses such as COVID. But mask effectiveness and comfort can vary greatly depending on the mask. In this article, we take a look at how to choose the best mask and the factors you should consider when buying a mask. 

What Are the Different Types of Masks?

Different masks provide varying levels of protection against viruses and pollutants. Here are some of the most popular masks, along with their benefits and drawbacks.

Cloth and Fabric Masks

Tests of cloth masks show the effectiveness of a cloth mask can vary greatly depending on the material used for the mask. Below shows the filtration effectiveness of a variety of common DIY mask materials. Most of the materials are able to filter over 50% of 1-micron particles, far better than not wearing a mask at all.

Most Effective Homemade Mask Materials Filtration

But how well do masks filter even smaller particles such as COVID-19? Tests show a dishcloth DIY mask filters about 60% of particles the size of COVID-19 and other viruses.

Although not the best mask for filtration effectiveness, cloth masks can be a low-cost option when mask supplies are short.

Pros:

·  Cheap

·  Can be made at home

·  Reusable and washable

·  Provide some protection even against small virus particles

Cons:

·  Less effective than other types of masks such as surgical and N95

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks, also known as medical face mask or procedure masks, are generally loose-fit masks that cover your nose and mouth. Tests show that surgical masks are surprisingly effective against PM2.5 and other small particles. Surgical masks filter out 80% of particles down to 0.007 microns (14 times smaller than COVID-19).

With the boom in the popularity of surgical masks, there has been confusion over how to properly wear one. Paddy from Smart Air breaks down how to wear a surgical mask:

How To Wear Your Surgical Mask Correctly - Effects on Performance

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Pros:

·  Provide significant higher protection compared to cloth masks

·  More comfortable compared to N95 or other respirators

·  Cheap

Cons:

·  The loose fit creates the possibility of particle leakage

·  Less protection when compared to respirators

·  Not washable

Respirators

Respirators offer the best protection against all particle sizes when compared with surgical and fabric masks. They are generally tighter-fitting masks that create a seal around the nose and mouth. There is a wide range of respirators on the market based on different country standards including FFP1, FFP2, FFP3, N95, N99, KN95, KF94, etc. All provide similar, but varying degrees of filtration effectiveness. Breathability and comfort can vary between the standards and different manufacturers.

Read More: Difference between N95, KN95, KF94 FFP1, FFP2, P2, and surgical masks

What's the difference between N95 and KN95 masks?

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Pros:

·  Have the highest filtration effectiveness

·  Less leakage as they have a tight facial fit

Cons:

·  Be careful of fakes! Check out “how to spot fake KN95 or N95 masks

·  Some may feel it is harder to breathe in

·  More expensive

What is the Best Mask for COVID-19 Protection?

It would seem that respirator masks such as N95 and KN95 masks provide the best protection against COVID-19. But there is some conflicting research on the topic of the best mask for COVID-19 protection.

Although N95 masks filter out more particles than surgical masks, some studies show their real-world protection against COVID may be similar. That being said, the CDC recommends N95 and KN95 respirators as the optimal protection against COVID-19.

Read More: Surgical and N95 Masks Equally Effective Against COVID?

Read More: Common Mask Questions

What is the difference between KN95 and N95 masks?

Which way round do I wear a surgical mask?

How to spot fake KN95 masks?

How long can I use one mask?

Do masks expire?

Bottom Line: Which mask should I choose?

Respirator masks, which include FFP1, FFP2, FFP3, N95, N99, KN95, KF94, provide great protection against air pollutants filtering out at least 94% of all pollutants. But surgical masks don’t fall far behind filtering out 80% of virus sized particles. Fabric masks come in last place, but still provide protection as a last resort.

Smart Air

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Smart Air is a social enterprise that creates simple, no-nonsense air purifiers and provides free education to protect people’s health from the effects of air pollution. We are proud to be the only certified B-Corp dedicated to fighting air pollution.