Here we look at some of the different types of facial masks and their effectiveness…
N95 masks are tried and tested disposable masks for filtering air to industry standards.
Manufacturers vary, but the N95 is a stamp from the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to show that it is effective.
The “N” means “not oil resistant” because the mask only protects against particles, not fluids, while the “95” means that it filters 95% of airborne particles.
They usually have a shelf life of 8 hours before they get clogged depending on the work you do.
As they offer so much protection, they are used by doctors and nurses in a medical setting.
However, their use by the general public has not yet been recommended due to supply problems for health workers.
These 3-layer disposable fluid-resistant masks are the most common type of face protection you will see worn by caregivers.
They are used to prevent infected droplets of doctors, nurses and caregivers from entering the patient’s respiratory system.
Although they do not have built-in air filters, they are considered to be sufficiently effective for most personnel outside of intensive care.
The nasal clip can be folded to fit around the nose, but it is loose and the material yawns on the sides so as not to protect against all particles.
When they get wet, their effectiveness is also reduced.
In addition, they are disposable and should only be worn once.
DIY dust masks (FFP)
Found in most hardware stores, dust masks can provide some level of protection against particles – if worn properly.
If it says FFP1, it is a basic mask and offers the lowest level of filtration for this type of respiratory mask.
To meet European standards, they must be able to filter at least 80% of the particles – FFP 3 filters 99%.
This means that it cannot filter out the tiny particles associated with viruses and bacteria.
You can also get an FFP3 mask, which looks similar but has a small filter in the middle to capture almost all of the airborne particles.
Unless you are a full-face gas mask, it offers the best protection – as long as it fits properly – and is more effective than an N95 as well as FFP1 and FFP2.
These are generally worn by cyclists to prevent them from breathing pollution in heavy traffic.
Generally made of neoprene, they fit tightly to the face and are intended to provide a level of protection against airborne particles.
Some are also marketed as grade N95 or N99, which means that the amount of airborne particles is 95 or 99%.
Since many people cannot get their hands on a mask, some have turned to creating their own.
There have been tips on using vacuum bags and even sanitary napkins to cover your face.
Although most are not as effective as anything you can buy in a store, they will offer more protection than not covering your face at all.
Research by Public Health England in 2013 examined the suitability of household materials that could be used as filters to filter bacterial and viral aerosols and found that the vacuum bags worked well.
Experts say you should aim for multiple layers – a double layer of tightly woven cotton with at least 180 thread count was one of the best barriers, according to American researchers.
Even a bandana, scarf or T-shirt can be used to cover your nose and mouth in public.