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Are Carbon Filter Masks as Effective as N95s?

The face mask market offers many varieties, but not all of these are effective against viruses. Small particles can move freely through many materials, including cloth, which means that the safest masks are the surgical masks, N95 respirators, and carbon filter masks.

As the former two are extremely popular, demand for them is high but supply stocks are low, making it more difficult to come by either option. The third choice is carbon filter masks. These are a brilliant alternative to N95 masks and easier to find in shops than other mask options.

What is activated carbon?

Also known as activated charcoal, activated carbon is regular elemental carbon that is processed until it forms microscopic pores, which increase surface area for adsorption and other chemical reactions.

A single gram of activated charcoal has a surface area of over 3000 meters square. This helps it engage in more chemical reactions than most other materials. It also enhances its ability to combat toxins and filter through unwanted particles, which is why it has become a popular element in many face masks.

Carbon filter masks

Carbon filter masks fit tightly around the mouth and nose area to prevent the entrance of foreign material. The mouth and nose are the most vulnerable areas because viruses can quickly enter through them, which is why they should remain covered in public whenever possible.


Carbon filter masks provide excellent breathability; they are layered with porous carbon filters, which allow for comfortable breathing.

They are much easier to breathe through than N95 masks. This means that they can be worn by those who have respiratory illnesses, like asthma, and by people with cardiovascular problems who cannot wear N95 masks.

Carbon filter mask design

Unlike surgical masks and N95 respirators, carbon filter masks do not need to be thrown away after each use and can be reused multiple times. You do, however, need to replace the filter, but more on that in a moment.

The mask is designed to cover the entire mouth and nose region. It has a tight and snug fit to ensure that every edge of the mask is in direct contact with facial skin. As a result, no area is left open, and harmful particles cannot enter.

Unlike N95 masks, a carbon filter mask offers a comfortable fit. N95 masks often leave red marks on your face from the pressure exerted by the mask’s rim, but carbon filter masks do no such thing. This is because the latter is fashioned from a soft base. Most carbon masks are made from cloth or cloth-like material and are soft to the touch. But wait! Before you claim that cloth masks cannot block out viruses, read on.

It’s true that cloth alone does not offer complete protection against harmful small particles. But it is essential to understand that a carbon filter mask does not rely on cloth to serve as an effective barrier against contaminants. The cloth only serves as a base. 

Inside the cloth, the mask has a designated area where the activated carbon filter is fitted. This filter then helps keep out harmful particles and offers protection against the coronavirus and other toxic elements in the air.

Replaceable filters

You can easily replace the filter inside a carbon filter mask. The filter is made from activated carbon and absorbs toxins over time. It may also trap viruses, which is why it should be replaced regularly to avoid the risk of self-contamination.

Once the filter is all filled up, you should toss it away. The amount of time you can wear a filter depends on the brand and personal preference, but the recommended duration is eight hours.

How to replace the carbon filter

To replace the carbon filter, place your mask on a table and unscrew the knobs inside of the mask. Next, take out the old carbon filter and throw it away carefully. Do not let it touch any surfaces. Wash your hands after this step, but be sure to dry them before touching the new filter or else you could wet it and reduce its efficiency.

When you’re ready, take the new filter and place it where the old one was. Secure the filter in place by tightening the knobs, and you’re done!

Are carbon filter masks reusable?

Yes, but you must replace the filter or it could become toxic over time.

These replaceable filters are also easy to find and can be purchased both online and in stores. They do not cost much and can fit into the same cloth mask cover. 

The cloth base should ideally be washed before a new filter is fitted into it. You can do this with lukewarm water and detergent or soap. Make sure to dry it in a ventilated area before using it, and to wash your own hands thoroughly after rinsing the mask to get rid of any contaminants that may have reached your hands.

Contamination risks

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Carbon filter masks, or any face mask for that matter, run the risk of spreading contaminants to other areas. Touching them can transfer the toxins to your hands, which are likely to reach many more things and contaminate those, too. So, remember not to touch your face mask without good reason and wash your hands regularly.

When throwing the filter away, make sure it goes in a trash can that is outside your living area; this way, you can help prevent other people from coming into close contact with the contaminants trapped inside the filter. You can even try putting the filter in a disposable paper or plastic bag before tossing it out.

How to take off a carbon filter mask

Taking off your carbon filter mask is easy. All you need to do is remove the elastic or straps from the back of your head or from behind your ears (depending on your model’s design). Take the mask off using these straps only; touching the front part that covered your mouth and nose could contaminate your hands.

How to wear a carbon filter mask

Putting the mask on is nearly as simple as removing it. Just place the mask over your mouth and nose area and secure it by sliding the elastic over your ears, or by tying the straps behind your head. Make sure that the rim of the mask is always in contact with your skin, or else there may be some gaps through which the virus and other toxins can enter.

The carbon filter mask as an alternative to N95

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N-series masks are one of the best ways to keep the virus at bay. They provide a high level of protection, but are in high demand and have become difficult to find in stores. Luckily, carbon filter masks make for an excellent alternative.

Activated carbon can filter through particles as small as 0.5 microns, which is why they are being used as an alternative to N95 masks, which can filter through particles as low as 0.3 microns. While there certainly is a difference between 0.3 microns and 0.5 microns, it is better to use a 0.5-micron option than opt for a less efficient cloth mask or not wear a covering at all.

Moreover, carbon filter masks are much easier to find in stores and online than N95 respirators. This is because N95 respirators are being used by both the general public and healthcare workers. Since medical professionals are in direct contact with coronavirus patients for hours on end, it only makes sense to reserve the heavy-duty protection for them. They are already facing a shortage of mask supplies because people who are not in direct contact with coronavirus patients are draining all the resources.

However, you must remember that no mask can guarantee 100% protection from COVID-19. Viruses are extremely small particles and may enter through any mask, although masks certainly do reduce the likelihood of this happening. Even the N95 respirator is not entirely virus-proof, though it does lower the chances of contracting coronavirus.

And remember

The best way to avoid catching the virus is to practice social distancing and restrict yourself to quarantine conditions by staying home, maintaining a six-foot distance between yourself and outsiders, and staying away from public places.

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