As the Government announces that there will be a mandatory requirement to wear masks in some public places and on public transport, we thought it would be a good idea to have a look at some of the options, not only for medical use but for everyday use in the community.
N95 respirators: N95 respirators are designed to create a tight seal around the nose and mouth. When worn correctly, they can block at least 95% of small airborne particles. These respirators are great at protecting both the wearer and the people around the wearer. One reason they’re so effective is that N95s are made out of many layers of fine polypropylene fibers, which use the power of static electricity to trap incoming and outgoing particles and droplets.
Please note these masks should never be shared or reused.
KN95 respirators: A KN95 respirator is regulated by the Chinese government; like an N95, it’s supposed to filter out at least 95% of small airborne particles. However, testing has revealed that the actual performance of many of the KN95s for sale is not consistent and some may actually be counterfeit. While some counterfeits may indeed filter out at least 95% of particles, it has been said in the media “some are catastrophically bad. Some are falling apart in our hands.” One tell-tale sign is if the packaging says it’s HSE approved, don’t trust it — because a UK government agency like the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) would not approve a mask made to another country’s standard.
Bottom line: If you have a KN95, just know it’s possible you might not be getting nearly as much protection as you think. So be sure to keep up with those other habits to help keep you and your loved ones safe, including physical distancing and hand washing. Wearing even a genuine respirator doesn’t make you invincible, so those habits are good no matter what!
Full Face Masks
A respirator is a personal protective device that is worn on the face or head and covers the nose and mouth. A respirator is used to reduce the wearer’s risk of inhaling hazardous airborne particles (including infectious agents), gases or vapors. Respirators, including those intended for use in healthcare settings, are certified by the HSE and Public Health England (PHE).
Surgical masks are disposable coverings worn loosely around the face. They have been in short supply from the start of the pandemic, but thankfully they’re now becoming more widely available. They’re primarily designed to protect other people from the wearer and to block large particle droplets or splashes in the air, although not very small particles. Many surgical masks are made of paper, though some are made with polypropylene. Research has found that surgical masks can block the vast majority of respiratory droplets emitted by an infected person. But how well a surgical mask protects you, the wearer, from smaller particles can vary widely when tested with the same methods used to test N95 respirators. For example, one surgical mask that was tested blocked around 30% of small particles, while others filtered out up to 80%.
Regardless of whether you choose a cloth or surgical mask, be aware that this doesn’t mean you can suddenly be in prolonged close contact with others. These masks might buy you a few extra minutes of protection, but medically it has been said “Not hours. Not lengthy periods of time.”
The sterilisation type mask is used in a sterile operating room or environment. In order to prevent surgical infections, the requirements for microbial residues in masks are higher. It must be sterilized with ethylene oxide to achieve this effect.
When the mask is sterilised, they are sealed and put in a packaging carton. The whole carton is put into a sterilisation cabinet for sterilisation. Ethylene oxide has a strong penetrating power, can penetrate boxes and plastic packaging, and penetrates into products for sterilisation.
The main use of a sterilised mask is in medical establishments, such as the ICU and the operating room that require strict control of the microbial environment.
A procedure mask is used for performing patient procedures, or when patients are in isolation to protect them from potential contaminants. Procedure masks are used to protect both patients and staff from the transfer of respiratory secretions, fluids or other debris.
First, consider the fabric itself. “The tightness of the weave is really important. To check your fabric, hold it up to a light: If you can easily see the outline of the individual fibers, it’s not going to make a great filter.
Researchers say a tight-weave 100% cotton is a good bet. That’s because at the microscopic level, the natural fibers in cotton tend to have more three-dimensional structure than synthetic fibers, which are smoother. Tests have shown how well dozens of different materials filtered. While two synthetics, including one that’s 100% polyester, did well, most synthetics ranked near the bottom, he says. But even a mask made out of synthetic fibers is better than no mask at all.
Think multiple layers. Several studies have found that masks made of multiple layers are more effective at blocking small particles.
A good option is a mask made of two layers of a tight-weave fabric with a built-in pocket where you can place a filter.
The best bet for the material to slip in as a filter is polypropylene, which is derived from plastic. Polypropylene is great as a physical filter but has another benefit: It holds an electrostatic charge. In other words, it uses the power of static electricity. Think of the static cling that can happen when you rub two pieces of fabric together. That’s basically what’s happening with this fabric: That “cling” effect traps incoming — and outgoing — droplets.
If you can’t get your hands on polypropylene fabric, reach for tissues: Take two sheets of facial tissue, fold them over and put them inside your mask’s pocket so that you end up with a four-layer filter that you can change out daily. It has been proved that “Surprisingly, the four layers of paper gives you adequate protection”.
If neither of those are options, a mask made of three or more layers of tightly woven cotton will also do a decent job.
Some online sites have suggested that coffee filters might make good mask filters, but is medically not advised as coffee filters are hard to breathe through, so you end up breathing around the filter rather than through it.
Shape also matters: A mask’s ability to filter out particles depends on not just what it’s made out of but how well it seals to your face. When it comes to cloth masks, those that cup tightly to your face are best. Masks with pleats or folds are also a good choice: The folds expand so that you have more air flowing through the fabric itself instead of leaking out through gaps at the sides of the mask. Masks with a flat front design are less effective.
What about scarf masks (also known as buffs)? Often made of synthetic fabric, they are designed to cover your face, nose and mouth and wrap around you. There would theoretically be less chance for the air to escape laterally out of the sides like it would from a mask that’s open on the side.
Avoid masks with exhalation valves
Some cloth and disposable masks come with an exhalation valve at the front. The valve makes it easier to breathe out, but it also releases unfiltered air, so it doesn’t protect others if you’re contagious. And protecting others is the primary reason to wear a mask.
Final Note! Keep it clean!
Experts say cloth masks should be washed daily with soap or detergent and hot water. Make sure the mask is completely dry before you reuse it, as a wet mask can make it harder to breathe and can promote the growth of microorganisms.