Unveiling the Truth about Protective Face Masks
During these uncertain times, we all are taking every step possible to protect ourselves and our families. One of the most important steps in keeping yourself and your loved ones safe is having adequate protection for the times when you do have to leave your home. Sheltering-in-place is ideal, but not an option for all of us, unfortunately.
Not everyone can afford grocery delivery, and many folks make weekly trips to their local pharmacy for life-saving medications. And not to mention all of the essential workers who keep our society afloat. If you are one of these people, or if you must interact with someone not in your home, the best practice you can have for your safety and theirs is some sort of face mask, to keep germs from spreading.
In this article:
- Surgical Face Mask Must Mean Super Safe… Right?
- What About Professional Quality Cloth Respirators?
- Do You Really Need A N95 Face Mask?
- DIY Is Your New BFF
- What NOT to Wear (as a Face Mask)
- Mask-Maker, Mask-Maker, Make Me A Mask
- Filtered Mask 5-Minute DIY Tutorial
- Where to Buy High Quality Face Masks
There is a large variety of choices when it comes to types of face masks.
Surgical Face Mask Must Mean Super Safe… Right?
The first and most typical type of mask to spring to mind is likely the surgical mask. It is a flat, rectangular paper-like material secured over the nose, mouth, and chin area with loose, adjustable straps to secure behind the ears. While the name ‘surgical’ may make these masks sound ideal, don’t let the name fool you.
These types of masks are single-use, and intended to be disposed of after wearing only once, and only for a few hours at most. They are designed to block the splashes, sprays, and splatters that can be common in a surgical environment. They do reduce potential exposure to saliva, but the disposable nature of surgical masks makes them less than ideal for everyday use in today’s world.
What About Professional Quality Cloth Respirators?
Professional respirators are created from a specific cloth-like fiber which is designed to protect the wearer from inhaling any potentially infectious organisms. They are far more durable than the standard surgical mask, with a rounded bowl shape that is contoured to the wearer’s face. The edges seal around the nose and mouth, and the built-in filter removes any unwanted particles from the air when you inhale.
Cloth respirators come in many sizes and models, and each one must be fitted to the individual and subjected to an aerosol spray test before it can be confirmed as fully effective. This includes the N95 respirators, critical for healthcare professionals who have been specially trained to fit and utilize these medical tools. There is currently a shortage of N95 respirators, resulting in catastrophic danger spikes for nurses and doctors working during this time.
Do You Really Need An N95 Face Mask?
While N95 and other cloth respirator masks can be very effective in a hospital setting when they are being utilized properly, the general public does not have access to the correct fitting and testing procedures to best make use of these particular types of masks. Also, most respirators make it more difficult for the wearer to breathe (again, when fitted properly) and can be ineffective for people with facial hair as they cannot seal entirely.
Meanwhile, due to the current nationwide personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage affecting nearly all hospitals, medical professionals must resort to wearing less effective and less protective surgical masks. This greatly increases the risk of illness spreading throughout hospital staff, as they are not adequately protected against COVID-19 positive patients.
Professionally crafted cloth respirators such as the N95 are best utilized in the hands of those who are in dire need of them, and trained to use them to their fullest effect.
DIY Is Your New BFF
Even if professional-grade equipment is not in your home, you can do plenty to protect yourself, your loved ones, and those you come into contact with. If you find yourself needing to go to the grocery store to stock up, or your prescriptions cannot be delivered, or perhaps you are an essential worker yourself, there are several small precautions you can take to total an excellent protective defense.
If you have access to a large enough supply of surgical masks which would allow you to use and dispose of them as necessary, they would be a potential option. However, most of us civilians don’t have a few dozen to a hundred surgical, sterile masks in our homes. And the problem with these is that they cannot be washed to be sanitized, so after one use, you might as not wear it at all.
This means, making your own mask is likely the best option for most of us. But masks aren’t the only DIY protection. Good hygiene, especially hand-washing, is another incredibly easy and remarkably effective tactic, though it simply just isn’t done far too often. Wearing disposable gloves in public- such as at grocery stores or banks- has become a common sight as well.
What NOT to Wear (as a Face Mask)
What in the world makes a good mask, then? If the professional quality masks have to be used by hospitals and workers, and surgical masks aren’t widely available enough to be realistically used and disposed of properly, then what are we left with? Many fast-thinking DIYers turned quickly to fashion fabric bandanas as interim masks. It is a creative solution and is likely better than no protection at all, though cloth bandanas must be sanitized after every use, or they become dirty and ineffective.
People have tried all sorts of wacky solutions, from bandanas to bananas and cloth diapers to CDs. While the humor goes a long way to lighten the heaviness of current circumstances, it is important to note that joke masks won’t likely do much to protect you from germs or bacteria.
Mask-Maker, Mask-Maker, Make Me A Mask
The masks most highly recommended by the CDC for use as a voluntary public health measure are actually simple, cloth face coverings fashioned from everyday, household items. These, in most cases, can cost as little as nothing, and potentially save lives. The home-made versions can be made of material that stands up to several washes and wears, making it a much more economic alternative to single-use surgical masks.
Even if you are not concerned with contracting the virus yourself, you may be a symptomless carrier and have the potential to spread it to others unintentionally. Wearing a face mask while in public prevents carriers with no symptoms from further spreading the disease, and helps flatten the curve further. It also helps to protect the uninfected from inadvertently inhaling sneeze contents or other disease-harboring particulate matter.
Filtered Face Mask 5-Minute DIY Tutorial
The ideal DIY mask is not complicated or difficult to make, and many of the materials you likely have laying around your house already. All you need is cotton cloth (a tee-shirt or bandana will do), a pair of scissors, coffee filters, and a few hair ties or rubber bands.
By following the steps laid out in the below info-graphic, you too can make your own DIY face masks for yourself and your family in little to no time. Cutting down the coffee filter makes the mask less bulky, though you can skip this step and just fold the filter in half if you don’t have scissors handy. If your fabric is already the right size, then you only need to lay it out flat and fold it properly, then you’re nearly done.
If utilizing the optional filter, place it roughly in the middle third of your fabric. Fold the bottom third up to cover the filter, then mirror that action by folding the top third down. By now, your fabric should look like bullet point 4, and have the optional filter fully encased inside.
Now, simply slide one hair tie or other elastic onto one side and the remaining elastic onto the opposite. All that’s left to do is tuck one side of your fabric into the other, then carefully pull the elastic portions over your ears to wear, as in image 7. And that’s it; you’ve made your own reusable mask!
Where to Buy High Quality Face Masks
If you just don’t have the items, ability, or time necessary to create your own DIY masks, there are many available for purchase. Cloth masks can be bought at most big box stores, but for the most efficacy, we recommend the KN95, which have non-US standards similar to the N95 masks, but are easier to find.
Our selection for the best mask available for lay person purchase is Vital Depot, whose KN95 masks can be purchased here.