Face Mask Refresh: Quality, Fit and Material Tips, Plus a Top N95 Alternative

Posted by Christine Almuete on

Face Mask Refresh: Quality, Fit and Material Tips, Plus a Top N95 Alternative

We’re still dealing with this pandemic, and now is an excellent time to reassess your breathable face mask quality standards. Learn more about the best fabric for face mask protection, fit tips, and the best N95 alternative.

As we are in the middle of the fourth wave of the pandemic, and with wildfires and increasing air pollution becoming the new normal, it’s a great time to assess your face mask quality, fit and effectiveness to ensure you’re wearing the best protection you can. Researchers are continuously learning more about the importance of mask-wearing, the impact it has on our health, and––with the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 making its mark on our society right now–– mask hygiene.

Here are some tips you can keep in mind when reassessing or refreshing your face masks to ensure they are of high enough quality to keep you safe from the dumpster fire the world is currently experiencing.

Remember these face mask quality facts

In higher risk situations, we always recommend using the best quality and best fitting mask you are able to get. Obviously, the highest quality masks you can wear include N95, KN95 and surgical face masks, but we must remember that our healthcare resources are increasingly being strained by the Delta variant. This means supplies are limited––and we should remain cognisant that these masks are first and foremost to be used in the medical healthcare setting.

Regular, everyday consumer face masks are highly accessible to the general public, and while many do not provide adequate protection to you (fake face masks are actually a thing!), there are very high quality face masks available that are non-medical, yet lab tested for their effectiveness. Cloth masks that have at least a double layer are considered higher quality, and can be washed and reused appropriately.

Cloth face mask fit matters

The most important things to consider when reassessing your face mask quality are fit and filtration. Your mask should be:

  • Snug fitting (no gaps around the face; nose wires and adjustable ear straps are really helpful). Masks that are loose with gaps around your face or nose are subpar in protecting you or others.
  • Breathable (but make sure its material is thick and not thin–– see through material is not advisable!).
  • 2 to 3 fabric layers.
  • Constructed of tightly woven fabrics (and preferable high-efficiency material. More about this, below!).

What about the best face mask fabric?

With the avalanche of face masks on the market today, there are some “fashion” face masks that are better than others at providing protection from the elements. That’s why it’s hugely important that you consider the material and fabric that your face masks are made of. 

If you want to make a style statement, try your best to choose a mask that isn’t all about fashion and less about protection, and consider breathability (i.e. leather face masks might be a bad idea, leaving you gulping for air!). 

Researchers have tested the filtration efficiencies of common fabrics, such as cotton, silk and chiffon, and studies determined that a combination of fabrics (for example, one tightly woven cotton sheet with two layers of chiffon) filtered out 80 to 99 percent of aerosol particles. This combination was nearly as effective as an N95 mask. Silk is also a material that is extremely water repellent, but highly breathable.

Overall, though, it’s the tightness of the fabric’s weave that should take priority. A great way to check this is by simply holding your mask up to a light: if you can see the outline of the individual fibers, it’s not going to be great at filtering out particles. Recent studies have shown that face masks constructed of high-efficiency material are up to six times better at filtering aerosols than regular cloth and surgical masks.

Good N95 face mask alternatives are available

If you want to save the N95 face masks for healthcare professionals, high-five! But, you’re probably wondering now if there’s any good alternatives that perform nearly as well as N95s that you can buy for non-medical, consumer use.

Not to toot our own horn, but DebriefMe® 's X95 Washable Reusable Face Mask is an excellent option, as it contains not two, but five layers of advanced filtration and carbon activated filters. Its mask material includes two soft layers of spun-bound cloth, two layers of high-efficiency filter cloth, and a middle layer of activated carbon. You can also ensure a great fit with its fully adjustable features.

And, side note: with scientists still trying to figure out vaccination safety for kids under 12 years of age, face masks are going to play an even larger role as we continue to deal with this pandemic and the Delta variant in the upcoming school year. One of the best ways to help protect your kids as they go back to the classroom is practicing good mask hygiene and ensuring they, too, are wearing face masks that meet the above standards and fit snugly. 

For these reasons, we’ve got an X95 version designed specifically for kids. Check out our kids breathable face mask here.