On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic due to COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus. The aggressive spread of the virus in many states of the US led the CDC to issue a statement advising the public on wearing face masks. But with a shortage of medical masks, many non-medical workers are wondering whether it’s better to wear a cloth mask or no mask at all.
Should you make the switch to reusable face masks?
Medical face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers are needed in healthcare institutions, despite major shortages. But even though the WHO only recommends N95 respirators and surgical face masks for healthcare workers and infected individuals during this time, panic buying is still going strong.
You can do your part by turning to reusable masks. Although they can’t match the effectiveness of medical-grade respirators, they’re adequate for individuals who stay home when possible, and practice safe social distancing when it’s not. This leaves the more heavy-duty equipment free for those on the front lines.
Effectiveness of a reusable face mask
Reusable face masks can be made of cloth or any other fabric such as cotton, gauze, silk, or muslin. Even though cloth masks are not currently recommended for use in healthcare settings, their use in hospitals can be traced back to the late 19th century.
The effectiveness of reusable face masks depends on the filtration capacity of the mask. Even though cloth masks aren’t able to provide as much filtration compared to medical masks, some level of filtration is still present. An effective face mask fits well around the nose, mouth, and chin so that it provides a seal that doesn’t let air in. That is why fitted cloth masks are preferable to bandanas and other loose face coverings.
Where to buy reusable face masks
Due to the pandemic, many different retailers have started producing reusable face masks that can be purchased online. These come in a variety of different materials and some masks even have pockets for replaceable filters that help add another layer of protection.
This reusable Vistaprint mask comes with a replaceable filter system that blocks airborne contaminants without adding moisture. The mask is durable and comfortable and is made to fit every face. Vistaprint also sells a pack of filters that can be used with this mask.
This is another reusable face mask that uses replaceable filters. The Vida Protective Face Mask is made of two layers of 100% cotton and comes with a multi-layer PM2.5 filter. The filter is made of two layers of melt blown filter and one layer of carbon activated fabric. The mask can adapt to different faces since it has adjustable straps and an integrated metal nose piece.
The Silkies Protective Face Mask does not have a replaceable filter. However, it still protects the wearer from large respiratory droplets since it’s treated with a biocompatible, hydrophobic finish. The soft material of this mask makes it comfortable to wear, especially with its stretchable ear loops. This mask is machine washable for up to twenty uses.
For face masks to be effective, they need to properly fit the face. Nuzzles makes face masks specifically for kids so that children can also have a proper well-fitted face mask. These face masks are of high quality and come with adjustable ear loops. They’re also comfortable to wear and come in a variety of patterns and colors.
SwaddleDesigns makes two types of reusable face masks. One design consists of two layers of cotton flannel, which is comfortable to wear. The second mask is made up of three layers of cotton chambray cloth that filters airborne particles and comes in large or medium sizes.
The inner layer of these reusable face masks is treated with an antimicrobial coating that can be machine washed up to 30 times. It is made up of antimicrobial jersey cotton or 65% polyester/35% rayon blend (depending on the style) and comes in a pack of five. Buckmason donates one mask for every mask sold.
The popular clothing brand Old Navy started producing reusable cloth face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic. These masks are made following the CDC guidelines and are made of three-ply 100% cotton poplin. They are soft and breathable and come with elastic ear loops. Both adult and kids sizes are available with five pieces sold per pack in a variety of different patterns and colors.
The popular denim brand rag & bone started producing reusable cloth face masks that are made up of 68% Lyocell and 32% Viscose material. The masks are lined with 100% cotton and are designed to provide maximum coverage to the mouth and nose.
Caring for reusable face masks
Reusable face masks need to be cared for correctly to ensure their efficiency. Caring for reusable face masks involves the following:
Duration of use
Even though reusable cloth masks can be washed and reused, they still have a duration in the number of times they can be washed to remain effective. The duration differs depending on the quality of the masks offered by different retailers. The standard duration is usually up to 20 or 30 washes.
Removing and washing reusable face masks
Remove your reusable dust mask or other face-covering by the ear loops or straps. Don’t touch the outside or inside of the mask, itself. It is recommended that reusable face masks be hand washed or machine washed with warm water after each use.
What makes a face mask reusable and high-quality?
Cloth masks come in a variety of different cloth types if they can be laundered without compromising the integrity of the mask, it is considered reusable. Different types of cloth have different levels of filtration, and the greater the filtration capacity, the more protection is offered. Here’s what to look for in a good quality face mask:
- The type of fabric the mask is made up of
- The closeness of the threads or gauze of the mask
- The number of layers of cloth used to make the mask
Some reusable face masks also come with a pouch in which replaceable filters can be placed. Filters add another layer to the mask, which can help provide greater protection. Therefore, you can consider selecting reusable face masks that include replaceable filters.
Medical-grade face masks should be reserved for healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, panic buying and hoarding has caused a shortage in medical facilities, where they are essential. So if you are not a healthcare professional, you should switch to reusable face masks if at all possible. Combined with social distancing, they will keep you safer than going mask free, and will help keep your community stocked with the supplies it desperately needs.