The quality of the air you breathe affects your health. Inhalation of environmental pollutants, dust, bacteria, and viruses can have negative effects, as evidenced by the current pandemic.
In China, the effects of air pollution cause 1.6 million premature deaths each year. Traffic-derived air pollution has also been shown to cause cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Bacteria and viruses can cause respiratory problems, costing the lives of many.
It is important to protect yourself from inhaling these particles and infectious agents. You can do this by wearing air filter masks (also known as air filtration masks), that filter the air you breathe so that you can inhale clean air when you’re in the presence of airborne contaminants, like the coronavirus.
How does an air filtration mask work?
Particulate matter consists of solid and liquid particles that are suspended in the air. Some types of particulate matter are hazardous and can damage the lungs and other organs when inhaled.
Air filtration masks remove particulate matter from the air you breathe, including dust particles and infectious agents. They use a filter that mechanically stops contaminants from reaching the wearer’s nose and mouth. The material of air filtration masks is made of a large number of randomly oriented fibers which form a dense mat that traps particles.
Classification of air filtration masks
There are several types of air purifier masks, each with a different level of efficiency and resistance. Air filtration masks that are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) need to pass tests to prove their effectiveness. These are usually known as respirators or air-purifying respirators and have to meet certain criteria.
Resistance to oil-based particles
N – Not resistant to oil
R – Somewhat resistant to oil
P – Strongly resistant to oil or oil-proof
95% – Can filter at least 95% of oil-based or non-oil-based particles
99% – Can filter at least 99% of oil-based or non-oil-based particles
99.7% – Can filter at least 99.97% of oil-based or non-oil based particles
FFP1 – Filters at least 80% of airborne particles
FFP2 – Filters at least 94% of airborne particles (the approximate equivalent of N95 masks)
FFP3 – Filters at least 99% of airborne particles
The best air filtration masks available
3M is a well-known company that produces a wide range of products for different industries. Their air filtration masks, or respirators, come in many variations so that you can find the best mask for your needs. These masks made by 3M are NIOSH certified and can filter dust, bacteria, viruses, and other airborne contaminants:
Their N95 particulate respirators are the most commonly used. They can filter 95% of non-oil based particles down to 0.3 microns.
This N95 particulate respirator is specifically designed to be used in the presence of metal fumes. It can also filter nuisance level organic odors as well as provide ozone protection.
This mask comes with a carbon layer that reduces exposure to nuisance levels of acid gases.
This mask provides the highest level of filter efficiency in the N series. It filters at least 99.97% of non-oil based particles down to 0.3 microns.
This mask filters at least 95% of oil-based and non-oil based particles down to 0.3 microns. It comes with a Cool Flow exhalation valve to reduce heat build-up inside the respirator so that it is more comfortable to wear.
This mask provides the highest level of filter efficiency. It filters at least 99.97% of oil and non-oil based particles down to 0.3 microns and comes with an advanced electrostatically charged filter that makes it easier to breathe.
This mask is designed to filter at least 95% of non-oil based particles and some types of oil-based particles. The carbon layer helps protect against nuisance levels of organic vapors.
Other types of air filtration masks
The 3M masks are disposable air filtration masks. If you’re looking for reusable options, check these out:
Vogmask sells air filtration masks that offer protection against PM 0.3, PM 2.5, and PM 10. They also help protect the wearer from dust, mold, smoke, odors, and other airborne contaminants. The masks come in microfiber or organic cotton material.
Although you can purchase a version with one or more exhalation valves, we recommend you get one without one if you can breathe safely that way. If you’re using your mask consistently in environments with extremely poor air quality, make sure you replace it after five or six months.
Cambridge Masks are air filtration masks with a unique, three-layer filtering system. They can filter PM 0.3, PM 2.5, and PM 10 dust, bacteria, and viruses. The first layer filters large pollution particles, such as PM 10. The second layer is a microparticulate filter that stops PM 2.5 and PM 0.3. The last layer filters out bacteria, viruses, and gas pollution.
The use of air filtration masks for protection against COVID-19
Air filtration masks such as N95 respirators are being used by healthcare workers as a form of protection against the coronavirus. These masks offer protection from large respiratory droplets of the coronavirus as well as small airborne particles.
Disposable surgical masks are also being used by healthcare professionals since they also help filter airborne particles. Medical-grade masks should be limited to healthcare workers due to the global shortage during this pandemic. The CDC recommends that the public use cloth face masks or cloth coverings as alternatives since they help provide some protection.
How safe are homemade cloth masks?
Face masks help provide a barrier against airborne particles, so homemade cloth masks do offer some filtration. However, homemade cloth masks do not offer the same level of protection as air filtration masks.
Homemade cloth masks may filter large particles and some levels of viral or bacterial aerosols, but are unable to filter fine particulate matter. Moreover, homemade cloth masks are loose-fitting and do not provide a tight seal around the nose and mouth.
Things to consider when buying an air filtration mask
Air filtration masks come with different levels of filtration efficiency. It is important to consider what type of airborne contaminants you are trying to protect yourself from so that you can choose the right filtration.
The mask should fit properly and form a seal around your nose and mouth. A mask can have a high level of filtration efficiency, but if it doesn’t fit properly, contaminants can still reach your nose or mouth.
How to take care of air filtration masks
Caring for disposable air filtration masks
Disposable air filtration masks must be properly discarded after use. They cannot be washed or cleaned and reused since they can still be contaminated.
Caring for a reusable air quality mask
Reusable air filtration masks can be hand washed or machine washed. Check how long the masks can be washed and reused. It is always important to follow the manufacturers’ guidelines to ensure that the masks are still effective. Since different types of air filtration masks are made of different materials, their durability also differs.