What types of face masks are available online and can a face mask protect you against coronavirus? What is the protection level of each mask and how do you pick the most suitable mask for you? Now that we’re being advised to wear homemade masks the Internet is booming with offers. Where can you buy face masks and which mask should you wear? Figuring out what to wear is not as easy as it might first seem.
What are the characteristics of an excellent face mask?
- It must fit snugly but comfortably against the side of your face
- It must be able to be secured with ties or ear loops
- It must allow for breathing without restriction
- It must be washable without causing damage or change to the shape of the mask
Cloth face mask
Cloth face masks are currently the most popular choice, because they can easily be made at home and you can choose a fabric that suits your personality. However, cloth masks can really only be classified as a fashion accessory or athletic equipment(biking, cycling) rather than providing fully effective virus protection. That said, I do love to wear a fashion statement on my face, they are often fun and funky, and – a real plus – can save you the cost and effort of applying make-up!
Can a cloth face mask protect against coronavirus? No, but there are many benefits of wearing a cloth face mask:
- It prevents you touching face while in public, thereby keeping you from directly infecting yourself if you have touched an infected object
- It is comfortable to wear for an extended period of time.
- It can help stop the spread of coronavirus by people who are contagious but are experiencing no symptoms (known as asymptomatic transmission).
Scientific models suggest that up to 80 percent of virus transmission stems from Asymptomatic carriers. You can find the source article here.
A BBC article suggests that wearing a cloth mask might instil a “false sense of security”; This might be true, if you aren’t fully aware of the limitations of these masks, but I think they can actually provide the wearer, and others with some reassurance and a calm mind which I believe can be a benefit in itself.
Over recent weeks, the acute shortage of clinically approved masks on the market together with a general lack of protective gear being available, has driven many people, anxious for at least some protection, to turn to homemade masks made out of a range of fabrics like cloth or sponge. Whilst these homemade masks do not match the effectiveness of clinical masks, they are better than having nothing on hand to combat the spread of germs, especially during a pandemic situation like this.
Which mask should you choose? Think about your comfort. Check out the attachment loops! Many home-made masks do not have elastic cords. It can be difficult to keep the face mask in place with a loop made from fabric. We researched many options before finally deciding on the ones which we are now selling on Etsy which have cords as shown in the pictures below.
Where to buy face masks?
Etsy – the marketplace for craftsmanship and homemade design – have a fantastic range of cloth masks in designer prints. There many options available, but do compare prices, seller location and delivery time! May advice would be to buy from suppliers within your own country as customs clearance can result in extra shipping time. Some of my products are made in London, and some are made in Riga, Latvia specifically for EU market. The full collection is available to view on my Etsy store and Shopify pages.
Etsy are now encouraging people to make and sell masks while other marketplaces and selling platforms like Amazon, FB and Google do not allow merchant accounts to sell face masks. You can find my Etsy shop here. You might be interested in reading NBC News article How to buy face masks on Etsy.
The next protection level: Surgical mask
Surgical masks are the most widely sought after form of masks in the market because of the increased protection they provide. Surgical masks are slightly loose-fitted around the mouth and provide protection against large splashes of water, droplets and sprays and are used in medical facilities. They are popular and cost-effective, and also come in a variety of sizes, colours and types.
Whilst they do cover your mouth and nose, surgical masks can’t completely protect you from catching or transmitting the coronavirus or any similar air borne microbe, since they have gaps through which germs can enter. That being said, a high-grade surgical mask can stop the transmission of many kinds of viruses (up to 80-90%), particularly if used by a person who is sick. It can help prevent large particles, such as spit or mucous, from being expelled by the wearer. Surgical masks are available for purchase online and in the larger pharmacy stores.
Activated carbon filter masks – do they work?
Face masks with activated carbon filters are an excellent option because they block out dust, pollen, and airborne germs. You do have to wash them and change the activated carbon filters regularly for them to remain effective. The activated carbon filter mask has a “pocket” in which to place the filter enabling easy insertion and removal the filter. You must remember to remove the filter when washing theses masks.
Activated carbon filters are created by heating them with a gas that causes the charcoal to expand and create a porous surface that helps trap toxins.
Can an activated carbon filter face mask protect against coronavirus? There are many benefits of the activated carbon filters, but it would be wrong to state that a face mask with a filter will protect you against coronavirus. The activated carbon filter does not remove viruses and other smaller bacteria and can only trap a minuscule number of viruses (10-20%). As such they cannot be considered effective in fighting or preventing viruses like COVID-19 from coming into contact with you. Consequently, they are not the best choice right now if your only focus is to prevent the COVID-19.
Are there any real benefits to an activated carbon filter mask? Well, keeping a mask on for an extended period of time can limit your air intake and that’s where activated carbon filter benefits will surface. Activated carbon filter masks are proven to improve the strength of your respiratory muscles and increase your oxygen intake. If you have to keep a mask on for long periods, it is better to pick one with an activated carbon filter. See the source article here.
If you do want to buy an activated carbon filter mask, you can find them on Amazon, eBay and many other marketplaces.
Can any face mask protect you against coronavirus? Yes, if it’s N95!
N95 respirator masks are the most effective type available and this face mask protects against coronavirus, however non-medical N95 masks with an external valve are banned in many places because the respirator valve only protects the wearer, and not those the wearer might come into contact with You can find the source article here. The opening at the front could even propel your germs further afield! Walking around in this mask is not safe for people around you. If you happen to have such mask, take additional precautions and cover it with a further layer of cloth.
N95 respirator masks are again widely being used right now to lessen the spread of coronavirus. It is slightly more tight-fitted and vague looking, making it a better alternative to surgical masks. Masks with N95 rating filter 95% of particles 0.3 microns or larger in diameter, roughly the size of a single virus and include PM 2.5. Some masks also have an attachment called the exhalation valve, which can filter out humidity build-up. They also work drastically better in filtering out and stopping pollutants, viruses and bacteria from entering the mouth or nasal passageway, with an efficacy of 95%. However, masks of this nature are very difficult to get hold of = they are not sold on Amazon or eBay, but are usually specifically only available for medical workers.
The masks with valves are becoming very popular because they allow easy breathing, prevent humidity, and reduce uncomfortable heat and carbon dioxide buildup inside the masks. Just remember – you protect yourself with this mask, not the others around you!
The bottom line: can a face mask protect against coronavirus?
In addition to social distancing and using proper hand hygiene, many health experts consider the use of face masks to be a key measure in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Although homemade cloth masks aren’t as effective at filtering out small particles as respirators or surgical masks, they offer more protection than not wearing a face mask at all and many will consider this as far a step as they need to take given they are likely only to come into contact with others during brief periods when they are out of the home..
The effectiveness of homemade face masks can be enhanced with proper construction, wear, and maintenance – for example washing them after every wear.