Facemask Buying Guide

August 07, 2020

Facemasks have become a necessary accessory for most Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s important to know how to select the right type of mask. This guide will provide valuable tips for finding the right mask for both your everyday needs and your occupation. Remember, even when wearing a facemask, it’s important to maintain social distancing to protect yourself and others.

Homemade Mask 

Homemade Cloth Masks

Homemade masks can be somewhat effective for the public, depending on how they are designed and used. It’s important to find the right fabric and fit and to wear it properly at all times. When using a homemade mask, CDC has outlined five criteria for creating, wearing, and caring them. Cloth masks should:

  • Fit snugly (but comfortably) against your face
  • Be able to be secured (with ties or ear loops)
  • Include multiple layers of fabric
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be washable without damage or shape change

Three layers of fabric are better than only relying on one or two layers, as there is a lower chance of viral particles penetrating the fabric. You may also consider adding a disposable filter for added protection, such as a coffee filter. 

Cloth Mask 

Manufactured Cloth Masks

For those who don’t have the ability to make their own masks, or simply don’t trust homemade PPE, there are countless types of cloth masks available for purchase. These masks are ideal for anyone who comes into contact with people, whether socially or at their job. Choose a mask that is comfortable to wear and can be easily washed, as uncomfortable masks won’t be worn as often, and if the material breaks down after repeated machine washing, the mask will lose its effectiveness.

The fit of a cloth mask makes a huge difference in its effectiveness, as gaps around the edges of a mask can account for a 60% decrease in filtration efficiency. The type of fabric used is also very important, as the effectiveness of the filtration varies from 5-80%, depending on the type of fabric used. The most effective cloth facemask design is dual-layer, including both a heavyweight cotton layer and a lighter cotton or silk layer. Tightly bound fabric also works well, including 600-thread-count cotton. A fabric to avoid is lightweight, low-thread count cotton, especially if only one of two layers are used.

Some cloth masks allow for the insertion of an additional filter, such as a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. HEPA filters are designed to clear out at least 99.7% of particulates 0.3 microns or larger.

Surgical Mask 

Surgical Masks

A medical or surgical mask is a disposable mask that is not only ideal for use in surgery, but also dentistry and other medical occupations. It can also be useful for anyone in isolation, or those working around people in isolation, such as long term care facilities.

A disposable surgical mask achieves two goals. First, it traps droplets of saliva or secretions from the upper respiratory tract when the wearer exhales. If worn by a caregiver, this mask protects the patient and the surrounding environment. If worn by a patient, it prevents the contamination of their surroundings and environment. Second, it protects the wearer from infection transmitted by “droplets” or from the risk of splashes of biological fluids. In the latter case, the surgical mask must have a waterproof layer and can be equipped with a visor for eye protection.

 N95 Mask

Filtering Respirators

For anyone working directly with COVID-19 patients or anyone suspected to be ill, or for those who desire or require the highest level of protection when out in public, a filtering respirator such as an N95 mask is highly recommended. A filtering respirator is a type of reusable mask that prevents the wearer from airborne infectious diseases, such as the virus that causes COVID-19. They typically consist of a facepiece and a filtering device, and sometimes the filter element is integrated into the facepiece. Depending on the type of filter, the mask can be effective against particles, gases, and vapors.

Filtering respirators may be equipped with an exhalation valve to prevent condensation inside the mask and help the user breathe easier. Filtering respirators also protect those who wear them from inhaling “droplets” of infectious agents. Other than extremely heavy duty respirators with full face shields and extreme filtering properties, filtering masks are the best protection one can expect from a facemask.


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