What are the Different Types of COVID-19 Face Masks?

To slow the transmission of COVID-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends the use of face masks in any public place where it can be difficult to stay six feet away from others.

Everyone is advised to wear a mask, whether you’re sick or healthy. This is because the virus is contagious even if symptoms aren’t present, so you could be putting others at risk without even knowing it.

There are dozens of varieties of masks on the market, making it difficult to know which type to buy. That’s why we’ve put together a guide that explains the differences.

Can Face Masks Protect Me from Coronavirus?

Face masks that cover the mouth and nose can protect against the spread of the virus via droplets that are released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Wearing a mask in public places like the grocery store puts a protective barrier between you and others and can be effective when combined with regular hand washing and social distancing measures. Masks don’t guarantee that you won’t catch COVID-19, but they do play an important part in slowing the spread.

N95 Respirators

N95 masks are actually respirators and are designed to prevent the wearer from getting coronavirus from others. N95 masks fit tightly around the mouth and nose and filter out at least 95% of the particles that may potentially be carrying COVID-19. The great thing about N95 masks is that they’re able to filter out both small and large particles, so they offer better protection than other options.

N95 masks are disposable and there aren’t enough of them available to protect healthcare workers. Researchers are looking at ways of disinfecting N95 masks so they can be safely re-worn, but CDC guidelines currently state that N95 masks should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders to avoid exacerbating the shortage.

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks are also known as medical masks. They are loose-fitting, disposable, and designed to protect the wearer from contact with splashes, sprays, and droplets.

Surgical masks aren’t as tight-fitting as N95 masks, so they are only effective in blocking large particles from a sick person’s sneeze or cough.

It’s recommended that these masks should only be used by healthcare workers when N95 masks aren’t available. However, the US is also experiencing a national shortage of surgical masks, so they should be reserved for the front-line medical staff who need them most.

Cloth Masks

Cloth masks are recommended for anyone not working in health care. Cloth masks and N95 masks have different purposes, but both are designed to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Cloth masks are worn to help protect other people from the virus if the wearer has it. And, because some infected people don’t show symptoms, it’s argued that we should all be wearing cloth masks as a preventative measure.

100% reusable face masks are the most practical option because they’re more breathable and comfortable than many other options. Most masks are also washable and reusable up to 100 times which makes them more eco-friendly than one-time-wear face masks. Buying two or three masks per person should be enough for most people, which is much more cost-effective than disposable options.

If you choose to use reusable face masks, the following care instructions are advised:

  • Wear your mask for a maximum of 30 minutes.
  • Machine wash at a temperature of 140 °F after each wear.
  • Hand wash with soap and warm water if machine washing isn’t possible.
  • Air dry to avoid shrinkage.

Homemade Masks

While buying a mask that’s been designed to protect against the spread of the coronavirus is preferable, it’s possible to make your own in a pinch.

CDC has instructions on how to make a sew and non-sew mask, and if you choose to make your own COVID-19 face mask, the following steps are advised:

  • Use at least two layers of fabric.
  • Make sure that you can breathe comfortably.
  • Include a pocket for a filter (always remove the filter before washing).
  • Use a wire ribbon around the nose area to improve the fit.
  • Wash your mask at a high temperature after every wear.

Other options for alternative masks include:

  • Neoprene - a tightly fitting piece of neoprene material can offer some protection from particles.
  • Neck gaiter - take a stretchy synthetic fabric, fold it into multiple layers, and tie it in place so the mouth and nose are covered.
  • Dust masks - masks designed for DIY can provide protection but they aren’t breathable and can be uncomfortable to wear.

Do All Types of Face Masks Work?

The simple answer is yes! All face masks offer some protection by capturing the droplets that can transmit coronavirus, and some studies have estimated that masks offer five times more protection compared with using no barrier at all.

It’s recommended to wear a face mask if you must leave your home for any reason, if you have symptoms, or if you are in close contact with an infected person.

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    If mask seems slightly small, try lightly stretching the mask starting at the center and working toward the earloops. If slightly larger, try putting the mask in the dryer until desired size. 

    Measurements are approximate

    It is recommended to wash your face mask after every use. Because of this, many of our customers choose to purchase several masks to ensure they always have one ready to wear.

    Machine washing using detergent with bleach-like compounds or similar active ingredients is ideal, as microbes are killed more effectively this way. Wash at a temperature of 140 °F for best results. Always wash with like colors to avoid any color transfer.

    If machine washing isn’t an option, hand-scrub your masks with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

    Air drying is recommended as shrinkage may occur if masks are machine-dried.

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