Study: 14 Face Masks, Here Are The Best, Worst For Covid-19 Coronavirus (2022)

Face masks can be like pizza, at least in certain ways.

People can end up wearing both on their faces, albeit for different reasons. Both can come in a wide variety of types and designs. And not all are created equal. Some (face masks, not pizza) are better than others at blocking droplets that may come out of your nose and mouth. In fact, some face coverings in some cases could actually make things worse, causing even more droplets to spew out into the air, according to a study just published in Science Advances.

Yes, you heard that correctly. Wearing some face coverings can be even worse than when you wear nothing at all. That isn’t quite how the song recorded by Alison Krauss goes, so how then can a face covering possibly be worse than wearing nothing but the smile on your face? Aren’t face coverings supposed to block all that stuff that comes out of your mouth and nose when you do things like cough, sneeze, talk, sing, pant, and say, “ohhh, pizza”? Aren’t face coverings supposed to help block your filthy nose and mouth from transmitting the Covid-19 coronavirus to others?

For the study, a team from Duke University (Emma P. Fischer, Martin C. Fischer, David Grass, Isaac Henrion, Warren S. Warren, and Eric Westman) created some “spitting” images of a person talking into a box. The study used freaking laser beams to do this. The laser beams created a sheet of light inside the black box in front of a hole in the box. So, essentially the experiment wasn’t just a black box.

Next, the research team asked a person to position his or her mouth at the hole and repeat the phrase, “stay healthy, people,” five times. Therefore, anything that would come of the person’s mouth, whether it’s small droplets or hot dog fragments, would subsequently hit the sheet of light, causing the light to scatter. In other words, any droplets or particles would scatter the sheet out of it. A cell phone camera filmed this sheet show, which would allow the researchers to quantify how much stuff was coming out of the person’s mouth.

(Video) Study 14 Face Masks Here Are The Best Worst For Covid 19 Coronavirus

The person repeated this procedure multiple times, first without any face covering and subsequently with 14 different types of face masks. The person didn’t wear all 14 masks at once, which would have looked ridiculous. Instead, the person tried them one at a time. The research team established a relative droplet count scale with a 1.0 count representing the number of droplets that hit the sheet when the person had no face covering and 0.0 representing what happened with the best mask of the bunch. Again, keep in mind that this is just a person trying just one version of each of 14 different types of masks.

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It should come as no surprise that the best mask was clearly the fitted N95 mask that didn’t have an exhalation valve. After all, this is what health care workers are supposed to wear, assuming that their health care facilities actually have provided enough of such protection. These masks are designed to keep droplets and viruses from going either direction, out or in, and protect both the wearer and everyone else. Experiments with this kind of mask in essence kept the sheet together with not much scatter recorded. Indeed, such masks aren’t perfect. However, they served as the standard for this experiment with a relative droplet count of basically zero.

The second place finisher was not too surprising either. Compared to the N95 mask, the three-layer surgical mask had a more variable relative droplet count that ranged from zero to 0.1. These masks are medical grade as well and can be like boxers (the underwear and not Mike Tyson). They can keep most things inside but every now and then can let something sneak outside.

The third and fourth ranking masks were the ones with polypropylene: the cotton-polypropylene-cotton mask and the 2-layer polypropylene apron mask. These had relative droplet counts around 0.1, a little bit higher than the surgical mask.

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The fifth through eleventh place finishers included four different two-layer cotton pleated masks and one one-layer cotton pleated mask. These fell in the zero to 0.4 relative droplet count range. So they caused some sheet to move around.

Number seven was another type of N95 mask: one with an exhalation valve. This registered a relative droplet count ranging from 0.1 to 0.2. When using a N95 mask, check first whether it has an exhalation valve that bypasses the filter. A N95 mask with such a valve is a bit like those one-way see-through windows. It provides full protection only in one direction. While the mask may protect you, you can still end up exposing yourself to others. Let me re-phrase that. You can still expose others to whatever may come out of your mouth and nose.

Such a valve allows air to move from the wearer’s mouth and nose through the mask without going through the main filter. While this may make exhaling easier, at the same time, it may permit viruses to get on through to the other side. This exhalation valve may be fine if the sole purpose of the mask were to protect you from what may be in the air. An example would be working with construction materials as you are building your plaster Justin Bieber shrine. But such a mask wouldn’t protect others from you as well as a N95 mask without an exhalation valve would. That’s why health care workers don’t tend to use N95 masks with exhalation valves.

The ninth place finisher was a one-layer Maxima AT mask that had an average relative droplet count of 0.2 with its range going no higher than 0.3.

At number 12 was the knitted mask. Not surprisingly this mask had a pretty large range, going from a relative droplet count of around 0.1 to just under 0.6. A knitted mask tends to be like a politician’s speech, full of holes. And holes can let a whole lot get through to the other side.

Then there were the two masks that could actually be worse than wearing no mask at all. At number 13, the bandanna had a range of 0.2 to 1.2. This suggested that going Axl Rose on your nose and mouth could in some cases allow more droplets to get through than when going bare-nosed and bare-mouthed. How could this be? How could a bandanna create even more droplets? Well, the answer is shear reality.

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Depending on its arrangement, construction, and positioning, a bandanna may actually shear larger droplets into many more smaller ones. Think about the last time you try to push a block of Parmesan cheese through a screen window (because who hasn’t tried that). Smaller droplets are worse than larger droplets because they can float in the air longer and may make it through a person’s respiratory tract more readily.

The last place finisher showed why when purchasing a face covering, you may not want to get fleeced. The fleece mask finished at number 14 on the list, worse even than wearing nothing at all. The experiments showed that you could still create quite a sheet storm while wearing the fleece mask. The average relative droplet count was 1.1. That means, on average, the person while wearing the fleece mask generated more droplets than when his or her nose and mouth were fully exposed. This may not necessarily apply to all fleece masks. Nevertheless, like the bandanna can do in some cases, this fleece mask was making big problems into many more little problems. And that’s not good.

Of course, this study was far from perfect and had numerous limitations. It didn’t test all possible versions of the different masks and how they may be worn. For example, not all N95 masks with exhalation valves and not all knitted masks or fleece masks are necessarily the same. The publication didn’t provide detailed descriptions of each mask and how each was worn. Moreover, who knows what might have happened had different people with facial shapes and ways of speaking worn the masks.

Additionally, spraying droplets doesn’t necessarily mean that you are spraying viruses. Each droplet may not contain enough of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) to infect others. And certainly “stay healthy, people,” is not the only thing that you may be saying around other people. What would happen, for example, if you were to say something like “it is what it is”? So take all of the study’s findings with a mask-full of salt.

Nonetheless, all of this is a reminder that public health recommendations have their nuances and associated detail. It’s not enough just to cover your face. Covering your face with sweat, chocolate, pizza sauce, or shame won’t suffice. And using just any mask won’t do. For example, don’t show up at a Costco wearing a Lone Ranger mask or a mask that doesn’t really block what’s coming out of your nose and mouth. Even when you are seemingly covering your nose and mouth, you may not be adequately protecting others. Therefore, be careful when choosing and purchasing a mask. Choose the right face covering. After all, you wouldn’t say, “just bring me some pizza, any kind of pizza,” would you?

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FAQs

What masks offer the most protection against Covid? ›

A N95 mask

An N95 offers the highest level of protection. It offers more protection than a medical mask does because it filters out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. Non-surgical N95s can be used by the general public.

How many times can you wear a KN95 mask? ›

Rotate and use a different KN95 mask every day so you do not wear the same mask more than once every 72 hours.

How often should you replace an N95 mask? ›

General N95 Respirator Precautions

All FDA-cleared N95 respirators are labeled as "single-use," disposable devices. If your respirator is damaged or soiled, or if breathing becomes difficult, you should remove the respirator, discard it properly, and replace it with a new one.

How long can you wear a KN95 mask? ›

“A nonfit-tested N95 will protect the wearer from an infected individual who is also wearing an N95, for 25 hours of exposure,” said Dr. Edje. “This is in contrast to two unmasked individuals—one infected and one not infected—who can only be together for 15 minutes without the uninfected becoming infected.”

What is the best mask to wear? ›

Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.

Which is better N95 or KN95? ›

Only N95 masks are approved for healthcare use in the U.S. KN95 masks have many of the same protective properties. CDC recommends that people be cautious about purchasing KN95 in the U.S. because many are fake and do not meet NIOSH requirements. N95 respirators are single-use, disposable devices.

How many times can I wear a disposable mask? ›

Disposable masks should be thrown away after they're worn once.

Can I reuse N95 mask? ›

N95 respirators can be reused until they are dirty, damaged, or difficult to breathe through. You should inspect your respirator before each use. If a strap or nose clip is broken, they should be torn, dirty, or otherwise damaged, then you should dispose of them.

Should I wear two KN95 masks? ›

Double masking should only include one disposable three-ply medical procedure mask and one cloth mask. You should not wear two disposable masks or combine an N95 or KN95 with any other mask. Disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly and wearing more than one will not improve fit.

Do N95 masks expire? ›

Nevertheless, despite passing a specified date, the material may remain effective for its intended purpose. With regard to N-95 respirators, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance that expired respirators may be used and considered effective.

Where do you store sheet masks? ›

Keep your sheet masks refrigerated so whenever you take out a sheet mask to apply, it is nice and chilled for you to use. The cooling sensation of this refrigerated sheet mask will not only help soothe your skin but can also help de-puff a swollen face.

What does N mean in N95 mask? ›

Here is a breakdown of what an N95 mask is: N: This is a Respirator Rating Letter Class. It stands for “Non-Oil” meaning that if no oil-based particulates are present, then you can use the mask in the work environment. Other masks ratings are R (resistant to oil for 8 hours) and P (oil proof).

How many times can you use an N95? ›

CDC recommends limiting the number of donnings for an N95 FFR to no more than five per device. It may be possible to don some models of FFRs more than five times [2]. Fit performance during limited reuse should be monitored by the respiratory protection program manager or appropriate safety personnel.

Are kn95 masks considered medical grade? ›

Patients with unacceptable masks, which are those with exhalation valves, neck gaiters or bandanas, will be required to wear medical-grade masks (surgical/procedural, N95 or KN-95), whether they are provided by Mayo Clinic or patients provide them.

How long can you wear a kn95 mask before replacing it? ›

You can use your mask as long as breathing remains comfortable. When it becomes soiled, please throw it away in the normal trash. To keep your mask clean between uses, store your mask in a paper bag for 48 hours before wearing again. You can wear a plastic face shield to prevent your mask from becoming soiled.

How can you tell if a kn95 mask is real? ›

NIOSH Approval Is Key

The mask should also have an abbreviated approval marking beginning with "TC" and the NIOSH logo printed on the mask itself. You can check the approval number or see sample facepiece markings on the NIOSH website.

Does Walgreens have kn95 masks? ›

N95 masks in varying sizes are available for free in the first wave of participating Walgreens locations while supplies last.

Should I still wear a mask? ›

Masks are recommended in indoor public transportation settings and may be required in other places by local or state authorities. At a medium COVID-19 community level, the CDC recommends that if you are at high risk for getting very sick, you should wear a high-quality mask or respirator.

Is it OK to reuse my mask? ›

A: The CDC recommends reusable face masks be washed after each use and provides information on the washing of cloth face masks. The reuse of barrier face coverings should be determined based upon the manufacturer's instructions, which may include washing and subsequent wear.

Do face masks expire if unopened? ›

Do sheet masks expire if unopened? Yes, sheet masks do expire. They SHOULD have an expiry date on the pack.

How long do face masks last? ›

When do face masks expire? Generally, masks expire in about one to two years from opening, depending on the active ingredients used. Clay masks may possibly drying out on the shorter end of that estimate, depending on the type of mask it is.

How do you disinfect a kn95 mask? ›

Submerging an N95 in 125C/260F degree steam or boiling water for 3 minutes will disinfect the mask without significantly reducing its filtration efficiency (FE). Don't excessively stir the mask if you boil it, use only enough manipulation to keep it submerged.

How long can face mask be kept? ›

According to renowned dermatologist and makeup artist Kari Bauce, face masks generally expire one to two years after the manufacturing date. Over time, the masks can become irritating to your face as the chemicals and ingredients within them begin to break down.

How do you store a N95 mask after use? ›

Store the mask(s) in a breathable container, such as a paper bag, in a dry location. Surgical masks should be rotated daily, for example using mask 1 on Monday, 2 on Tuesday and so on, returning to mask #1 on day 6. This can be done for one month (4 rotations) and then discard masks and bags.

Are 3M N95 masks good for Covid? ›

3M Model 9210+

If you wear an N95 with an exhalation valve, you will be protected from others who may have COVID-19. If you have COVID-19, an N95 will protect others from you; however, an N95 with a valve may not protect others as well as an N95 without a valve.

Why do kn95 masks have expiration dates? ›

The motivation behind the expiration date is that a mask's effectiveness depends on having a good fit. Over time, it is possible for the elastic bands and nose pieces to start to degrade. If the straps and other structural pieces are degraded, the masks will fit less well.

Should I refrigerate my sheet masks? ›

Sheet masks and eye patches can be stored at room temperature, so long as they're away from direct sunlight. They're perfect to place inside a skincare fridge as a cooling and soothing treat during your skincare routine.

Can I use the same sheet mask twice? ›

However, something you should not do is reuse the same sheet mask. Yes, there's usually a ton of excess serum at the bottom of sheet-mask packets, but the last thing you want to do is reintroduce the dirt and bacteria from your face by re-soaking and reusing the same mask.

Should I put mask in fridge? ›

Similarly, face masks can benefit from being stored in the fridge, as the resulting cooling effect can help soothe your skin, reduce redness and calm any irritation in the short-term. Plus, the chilly sensation also makes the masking experience particularly refreshing – perfect for the morning or after a long day.

How do I know if my N95 is positive and negative? ›

Negative and Positive Fit Check for Shigematsu Half Mask - YouTube

Do N95 masks go over your head? ›

Place the N95 under your chin with the nose piece bar at the top. Pull the top strap over your head, placing it near the crown. Then, pull the bottom strap over and place it at the back of your neck, below your ears. Do not crisscross the straps.

What is the difference between N95 and regular mask? ›

Respirator masks, like the N95 Respirator Mask, are very similar to face masks in shape, but are more capable of protecting against small contaminated airborne particulates. The construction of an N95 Respirator Mask is designed to fit the mask closely to the face, eliminating the gap that regular face masks have.

Can you sleep with a kn95 mask on? ›

People should not wear masks while sleeping; masks should not be placed on any child when the child is sleeping. People who have trouble breathing, are incapacitated, or who are otherwise unable to remove the mask without help should not wear a mask.

Can kn95 be reusable? ›

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using N95 respirators for no more than five uses, noting that each time an N95 is removed and put back on, it weakens and stretches the masks' straps. Per CDC guidance, health care workers should not reuse respirators.

Should I still wear a mask? ›

Masks are recommended in indoor public transportation settings and may be required in other places by local or state authorities. At a medium COVID-19 community level, the CDC recommends that if you are at high risk for getting very sick, you should wear a high-quality mask or respirator.

How long do face masks last? ›

When do face masks expire? Generally, masks expire in about one to two years from opening, depending on the active ingredients used. Clay masks may possibly drying out on the shorter end of that estimate, depending on the type of mask it is.

Can you sleep in the same bed with someone who has Covid? ›

Protect yourself if you must share a bedroom with someone with COVID-19. Keep the window open if you must share a room. Keep beds at least 6 feet apart in shared rooms. Put a divider between beds in shared rooms.

How do you disinfect a kn95 mask? ›

Submerging an N95 in 125C/260F degree steam or boiling water for 3 minutes will disinfect the mask without significantly reducing its filtration efficiency (FE). Don't excessively stir the mask if you boil it, use only enough manipulation to keep it submerged.

Can I use the same sheet mask twice? ›

However, something you should not do is reuse the same sheet mask. Yes, there's usually a ton of excess serum at the bottom of sheet-mask packets, but the last thing you want to do is reintroduce the dirt and bacteria from your face by re-soaking and reusing the same mask.

How can you tell if a kn95 mask is real? ›

NIOSH Approval Is Key

The mask should also have an abbreviated approval marking beginning with "TC" and the NIOSH logo printed on the mask itself. You can check the approval number or see sample facepiece markings on the NIOSH website.

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