According to CDC guidelines released in April 2020, non-medical cloth face masks and coverings are now recommended as a best practice to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. As a result, tons of brands have pivoted their resources to produce cloth face coverings for the general public.
To meet CDC guidelines, the face coverings should allow you to breathe without restriction, include multiple layers of fabric, fit snugly across the face, and be able to be secured with ties or ear loops. If the mask is branded as a reusable option, it should also be washable. Many retailers, like Los Angeles Apparel and Reformation, are now offering cotton face masks that include all of the above features.
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But how do you know which face mask is best for protecting yourself and others? According to a study led by B. Scott Segal, MD, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina, the efficacy of homemade masks can vary substantially based on the material it’s constructed with. “Recall that the public health rationale for wearing a mask is to protect others from the wearer, not the other way around,” Dr. Segal tells PEOPLE. “We feel that if one is going to the trouble of making a mask, offering some protection to the wearer, like hospital grade masks do, makes sense.”
Now that so many retailers have stepped up to produce masks, there are tons of options available. They’re made with a range of different materials, and some masks even include pouches for a replaceable filter to be inserted. But with so many choices, it can be overwhelming to figure out which kind of mask you should go with. However, the general consensus among experts has been that, when it comes to reusable face masks, the more layers there are, the better.
Some research suggests that using a mask with a filter can help increase the protection it offers you and those around you. According to a study led by Yang Wang, Ph.D, assistant professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, filters in face masks offer the most protection, while a single layer of cotton will offer the least — but you should also ensure that the filters do not contain fiberglass.
“Based on our current tests, fabrics [alone] are not very efficient in stopping aerosols in a size range of 100 to 400 nanometers,” Wang tells PEOPLE. For reference, viral particles from the coronavirus have been found to be as small as 70 nanometers. “This is especially the case for single-layered fabrics. If no filters are available, people should use multiple layers of fabrics, while making sure that there is no leakage from the side of the mask.”
Similarly, Joel Burken, Ph.D., the chair of the department of civil, architectural and environment engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said that “an efficient filter material that still allows airflow is the best option”. He adds that “a mask that is fitted well and [allows airflow to go] through the filter material is important so that the air we breathe does not bypass the filter.” N-95s filter out the most, but those need to be reserved for healthcare professionals and essential workers on the frontlines.
Instead, Burken says a PM2.5 filter — which many brands are now selling along with reusable cloth face masks — is a good option. It won’t be perfect, he says, but “any filter is still better than no filter” because it’ll catch more viral particles than a cotton mask alone.
If you decide to use a face mask with a filter, be sure to replace the filter after a week of use at most — preferably more often than that if you’re using it daily. Otherwise, the material can start to degrade and the filtration won’t be as effective.
Luckily, a number of brands that are producing face masks with pockets for filters, like Vida and Ministry of Supply, are also offering filter packs for purchase so you can easily stock up. Below, we’ve listed 4 places you can find filter packs online; they include a range of sizes and filter materials for you to choose from.
The situation is constantly changing and products are selling out quickly, so be sure to check back as we update this post with the latest information and as new filters become available.
With hundreds of five-star ratings, this set of 10 face mask filters is a hit with customers — so you can rest assured that you’re making a solid purchase. The filters are five-layer PM2.5 activated carbon, which means they’ll filter out most pollutants as well as block large droplets like those from coughing or sneezing. They’re also small enough to fit in most standard face masks, so you don’t need to worry about cutting them to fit.
To buy: Activated Carbon Filter Mouth Mask Filters — 10-Pack, $6.99 (orig. $7.99); amazon.com
If you want to make sure you’re set on face mask filters for the foreseeable future, this pack of 100 filters will have you covered for at least a few months (and that’s if you used one of them a day). These filters are five-layer PM2.5 material, so they’ll block out droplets that can occur with coughing and sneezing, as well as other smaller pollutants like dust.
To buy: 5 Layers Air Filtration Filters Replacement Pad — 100-Pack, $19.80 (orig. $20.95); amazon.com
This 20-pack of activated carbon filters will fit into most standard cloth face masks. One filter is made of five layers, and it can effectively filter out most small allergens like dust and pollen down to the micron level. This pack should last you a while, too, if you swap out your filter at least once a week (as is recommended).
To buy: OUBA Activated Carbon Filters, $26.99; amazon.com
These PM2.5 filters come in a 10-pack, and are made of five layers of material including two filter cloths and anti-sticking cloths to prevent large droplets from passing through. It’s recommended you replace these filters every two days, so one pack should last you a little under a month.
To buy: Kinglight PM2.5 Activated Carbon Filter, $15.98; amazon.com
For only $40, you can buy a huge 30-pack of PM2.5 activated carbon filters, which you can use for up to a week before disposing of it. That means that one pack of 30 filters will last you 30 weeks, or roughly seven months. Not bad at all.
To buy: 30pcs PM2.5 Activated Carbon Filter, $39.89; amazon.com
Tech accessory brand Casetify is now selling reusable cloth masks and filters. These rectangular filters will fit into a range of masks, but they work best with the masks also offered by Casetify. Made with five layers of PM2.5 material — which is often used in masks made to block pollution and dust particles — they come in a pack of 10 for $10.
To buy:10 Casetify PM2.5 Filter Inserts, $10; casetify.com
Accessory brand Vida is offering non-medical grade face masks for the general public in line with CDC guidelines, as well as insertable filters. The filters are made from six layers of PM2.5 material and are designed to “effectively block airborne contaminants,” according to Vida. A pack of five filters costs $12, and the brand recommends replacing the filter in your mask at least once every seven days.
To buy: 5 Replacement PM2.5 Filters, $12; shopvida.com
This pack of filters from Ministry of Supply are custom-fit for the brand’s 3D-printed cloth masks, but they’ll also fit into any similar-sized reusable masks with a filter pocket. Ministry of Supply was founded by two former Massachusetts Institute of Technology students, and tested the filters with Nelson Labs to ensure efficacy. According to the brand, the filters were found to provide “higher than 95% Bacterial Filtration Efficiency,” meaning they successfully stop most particles from getting in or out. A pack of 10 filters costs $20.
To buy:10 Mask Filter Pack, $20; ministryofsupply.com
To fit its new face masks, Vistaprint created its own disposable filters that can be used for up to 12 hours. They come in packs of 10 for $10 and should be stored somewhere cool and dry to ensure efficiency. Like the face masks, the filters are available to pre-order on Vistaprint’s website now and are expected to ship by June 13.
To buy: 10-pack Filter Pack, $10; vistaprint.com
These PM2.5 filter inserts from Etsy shop ChristisCustomVinyl can be purchased individually or in sets of up to 50. They’re double-layered for extra density and should fit most standard cloth face masks — but you can also cut them to fit your mask if they’re too big.
To buy: MERV 13/PM2.5 Filter — Two Layer Filter Insert, from $3; etsy.com
These filters from the Etsy storefront LoveAllTogether are made from three layers of non-woven polypropylene — which is essentially breathable, but still tightly woven fabric — and are made to be disposable after a day of use. They come in packs of eight for $10 and should fit most face masks.
To buy: 8-pack Face Mask Filters Refill, $10; etsy.com
These face mask filters from Etsy storefront Toodaughters are made with sheets of polypropylene, the same material often used in the construction of N95 masks. They’re cut into squares that can be trimmed further to accommodate any size mask, and they come in packs of 10.
To buy:10 Face Mask Inserts, 100% Polypropylene, $9.99; etsy.com
Etsy storefront KnottedStringsShop is offering these filters made from thick shop towel material, which have been shown to filter particles better than cotton filters alone. They come in packs of 10, and if you buy five packs, you’ll get one free.
To buy: Face Mask Filter 10-Pack, $6.50; etsy.com
These HEPA filters from Etsy storefront CosmicCreationsByCT are cut and sewn to the size of a surgical face mask, so when you insert one into your cloth mask you can expand it to cover your mouth and nose comfortably. They come in packs of two, 10, or 20 filters.
To buy: 2 Pack Handmade HEPA Filter Insert, $15; etsy.com
In conjunction with the release of its new face masks, Steve Madden is selling packs of 20 PM2.5 activated carbon filters. These filters can fit into Steve Madden’s new masks or most other face masks that have a filter pocket (you can also trim them down for a better fit). One pack costs $25 and will last you a while if you swap out the filter once or twice a week, as recommended.
To buy: Mask Filter (Pack of 20), $25; stevemadden.com
This article originally appeared on People.
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