What to Look For When Purchasing Face Masks?

Wearing a face mask can help individuals feel protected and reassured that they are doing the best they can for their health. There are many kinds of face masks available, all of which have a different “correct” way to be worn and offer different levels of protection. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has seen people get creative with making their own masks, such as turning household items like plastic water bottles and feminine hygiene products into face masks, but should you wear a mask?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends using masks if you:

  • Have a fever, cough or other respiratory symptoms

  • Are asymptomatic but need to wear a mask if you’re caring for someone with a respiratory illness or higher risk of becoming infected

  • Are in a setting in which social distancing is difficult to achieve, such as a crowded bus, convenience store, or similarly “tight” areas

Masks are most effective when used in combination with frequent hand-washing either with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.

So, which is the best mask? The three most common face masks available are:

  • Surgical mask

  • N95 respirator

  • DIY cloth mask (that follow CDC recommendations)

Surgical Masks

The most common mask—surgical masks—are designed to be disposable and loose-fitting while still covering your nose, mouth and chin. Although designs vary, most are a rectangular shape with a metal strip formed around the bridge of your nose and elastic bands (to be locked behind your ears) or ties (to be tied behind your head).

Surgical masks need to be worn correctly for them to be effective. Instructions on how to correctly put on masks can be found here. A properly worn mask may help block transmission of large-particle microorganisms from droplets, sprays, splatters and splashes while also reducing hand-to-face contact.

N95 Respirator

These masks are more form-fitting and tighter than surgical face masks. N95 masks protect you similarly to surgical masks; however, N95 masks can also filter out 95% of very small particles, including viruses and bacteria. Some types may include an exhalation valve, which can help breathing and the buildup of heat and humidity.

Designed to form a tight seal, with elastic bands holding it firmly to your face, N95 respirators are the chosen mask for many health professionals. However, these masks aren’t one size fits all. For the mask to be effective, it must be “fit tested” to make sure a proper seal is formed. It is harder to achieve a tight seal in some individuals, especially children and those with facial hair.

DIY Cloth Masks

Although the least effective method out of all the masks, wearing cloth masks can still be useful in areas where you’re unable to practice social distancing. These areas could include public places, e.g., the supermarket, pharmacies, or public transport. Creating or purchasing your own cloth or other material face masks also ensures surgical masks or N95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers and medical first responders.

What not to do when wearing a mask:

It is crucial when wearing masks that proper steps must be taken to ensure maximum safety. Avoid dangling the mask from one ear, hanging the mask around your neck, or touching the mask once it's secured on your face. Surgical and N95 masks are only designed for one-time use and reusing them can reduce their effectiveness/efficiency in blocking pathogens from reaching your face.

Although social distancing should be practiced wherever possible, face masks can still be handy to have as an added protection for you and for others. Did you know that you touch your face 23 times, on average, per hour? Therefore, it is still crucial to maintain good hand hygiene, which includes washing your hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds to ensure you remain in good health.

Alsco has been helping the world prosper since 1889. We’re one of the leading providers of linen, workwear, commercial floor mats, industrial cleaners, first-aid training, and washroom-hygiene services across North America. We also provide cloth face masks in four colors to give your team a uniform and professional look while protecting themselves and your customers from illness. Get in touch with us today!

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