Although we are almost a full year into navigating the novel coronavirus here in the United States, there is still much discussion surrounding which face masks are the best in terms of providing optimal protection for the wearer and those around them. It seems that every day there are new studies being published about face masks, many giving conflicting evidence particularly when it comes to the overall effectiveness of cloth face masks vs medical masks.
Additionally, with the new, more contagious strains of the virus recently discovered many medical experts are now saying Americans may need to upgrade their masks or consider wearing two face masks at the same time.
In this article, we will be diving deep to answer the question once and for all:
How Effective Are Face Cloth Face Masks, Really?
What is a Cloth Face Mask?
A broad term, a cloth face mask generally refers to any type of face covering made of cloth materials, many being home made. Since cloth face masks are not regulated by the FDA, CDC, or NIOSH, there is no set standard for the proper way for them to be made. Some can include 1, 2 or 3 layers of fabric with or without a filter option. Because there are so many different types of masks, no two are guaranteed to provide the same level of protection.
How Effective Are Cloth Face Masks At Protecting Against COVID-19?
As we mentioned, since there are no specific regulations for the manufacturing of cloth face masks, each may offer various levels of protection. A recent study conducted by researchers at Duke University studied the efficacy of 14 different types of masks. The team used a laser beam and cell phone camera to measure the effectiveness of each mask.
After testing N95 face masks, different types of multi-layer cloth face masks, single layer cotton masks such as bandanas, neck fleeces (gaiters), and surgical masks, to name a few.
While the results were not totally surprising, there were some interesting discoveries. For starters, certain single layer cloth masks such as bandana and gaiters actually may do more harm than good. The researchers found that the amount of particles measured when wearing neck fleeces was actually higher than the amount of particles measured when wearing no mask at all. This was due to the material of those masks breaking down larger droplets into smaller particles that can be more easily transmitted through the air.
While neck fleeces, or gaiters, provide seemingly minimal to no protection against COVID-19, the study did find that cloth or cotton masks constructed with multiple layers and tightly woven fibers may provide a decent level of protection.
However, N95 face masks proved to offer far superior protection compared to any other mask the research team tested.
The results of the study show that while generally wearing some form of layered face masks will help protect you, opting for a well fitting N95 (or KN95) face mask will be your best and safest option in terms of safety.
Cloth Face Masks vs Medical and N95 Face Masks
Not surprisingly, the Duke study showed that N95 face masks are the far more superior option for protection over any other mask. Additionally, 3 Ply surgical masks also offer superior protection to cloth masks.
When it comes to choosing between an N95 and cloth mask, there are a few things to consider. As we have discussed in previous blogs, one of the most important things to consider when choosing a face mask is the fit. The tighter and more secure the mask sits to your face, the more protection it will offer.
While N95 and KN95 face masks are constructed with 4 or 5 layers of filtration, they also sit tightly to the face reducing the amount of airflow in and out from the edges of the mask. This reduction of excess airflow serves to prevent respiratory droplets from finding their way in or out of the mask, thus greatly reducing the chance of exposure to illness for the wearer and those they come in close contact with.
When assessing the efficacy of cloth masks vs medical masks, a medical or N95 face mask will hands down provide you with far more protection than a cloth mask will. N95 respirators offer a 95% filtration rate and cloth masks ranging from about 26%-80% filtration efficiency.
If you do choose to wear a cloth mask, the Centers for Disease Control suggests to opt for one with a higher thread count for more tightly woven fibers as well as a mask constructed with multiple layers for optimal protection.
Mandatory Medical Masks?
Due to the increased level of transmission in the new strains of the coronavirus, certain areas in Europe have mandated the use of medical grade face masks over cloth face coverings in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus in these areas. So far, this mandate has been made in France, Germany, and Austria.
While the use of medical grade masks in public areas is not required in the United States, President Biden has mandated the use of face masks in all federal buildings, planes and airports. He is also encouraging everyone in the US to “mask up” for 100 days to help flatten the curve.
The Best Way To Protect Yourself During The COVID-19 Pandemic?
1. Social Distance
This is the best way to ensure you are staying safe. Maintaining a minimum of 6 feet distance between yourself and others is imperative for reducing potential contact with an infected individual.
2. Wear Your Face Mask
If social distancing is not an option, make sure you are wearing your mask when in close contact with others. Whenever possible, choose an N95 respirator, KN95 or 3 Ply Face Mask for the optimum level of protection.
3. Wash Your Hands
Keeping your hands clean may be just as important as wearing a mask and socially distancing during the pandemic.
4. Invest In Other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
At Source Ortho, we understand the stress that comes with making sure you and your loved ones are protected during the coronavirus pandemic. We are committed to providing all of our customers with the best quality PPE for sale. We are your trusted source for N95 masks, KN95 masks, 3 Ply masks, face shields, as well as hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, thermometers, and more.
Save 20% on all face masks with code MASK20 today.