Your questions about face masks answered

18th May 2020

There are many types of masks available, from homemade cloth masks to higher filtration FFP3 masks which can take 99% of COVID-19 harbouring particles out of the air you breathe. Which type of mask is best for you? In this article we answer your questions about face masks.

What type of face mask should I use?

When it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19, any type of mask is better than none. The WHO even recommends that you build your own cloth masks if you have no other alternative. Assuming you want a higher level of filtration for your situation, which is the best type of face mask you can get?

Your specific circumstances matter when considering what type of mask to use. Healthcare workers (including family members who care for ill loved-ones) should be using a minimum of FFP2 face masks when in the presence of those who are sick with COVID-19. On the other hand, if you are walking out in the public and shopping in areas where people are maintaining social distancing, a cloth mask may be sufficient for your needs.

Things you should consider when selecting a face mask

Consider the following as it applies to your situation when selecting a face mask.

How long will you need to wear the face mask?

A higher filtration face mask, such as an FFP2 mask, may be good for an 8-hour shift in situations where you are not overly hot and sweating. If you are overly sweating, the dampness and moisture can affect how well your FFP2 mask works.

Some masks have a valve in the front to help prevent moisture in exhaled breath condensing on the inside, making the mask wet and more libel to virus penetration

If you haven't worn a face mask for 8 hours before, you may find it difficult if you are in a warm environment and are prone to sweating.

Where will you be wearing the face mask?

There are many different scenarios where wearing a face mask presents different levels of potential exposure. If you are walking outdoors in areas where it is required to wear a face mask, a cloth mask or surgical mask should suffice. If you will be entering indoor locations, such as when shopping for groceries, your risk of exposure increases. In situations like this, you may wish to consider wearing a respirator mask. These type of masks offer a higher level of filtration, but still fit loosely on the face. Other people may be going to a work environment where maintaining social distancing is not always possible. If you are comfortable wearing one, an FFP2 mask may be more appropriate for that type of situation. If you will be caring for loved ones who have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, an FFP3 mask may be your best choice.

How comfortable are you while wearing a mask?

In some situations, you may be told the level of filtration you may need in a given situation. However, if you are simply told to wear a face mask and are left to your own devices, you should consider getting a mask that meets your own desired level of filtration and comfort. If you find it difficult to breathe in a higher level filtration mask, consider getting a looser-fitting mask. If you constantly sweat, degrading the structural integrity of your mask, consider getting a cheaper disposable mask such as a surgical mask. If your risk of exposure is low, consider using a cloth face mask that is likely the easiest to breathe in.

Are FFP2 masks reusable?

In this time when much of the world is trying to get the most use out of FFP2 masks while still keeping safe, there is evidence to show that vaporised hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean them several times in an effort to prolong their use. The study shows that a mask can be reused using this method of cleaning.

This study shows that FFP2 face masks retained their shape and were able to retain particles in a 'quick' test after sterilizing once and twice with a short hydrogen peroxide process.

The main thing to consider when reusing masks are their structural integrity. If it appears that the mask material is degrading, it may be time to switch to a new mask. While surgical, FFP2 and FFP3 masks are all considered disposable, you may find that you can use them several times if you are careful with them.