2020 has been an iconic year in many ways – one that most of us are anxious to leave behind. But we’ve also learned a lot this year, especially about health and safety, especially how to stay safe in our communities. Keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities safe is a responsibility we all share. So when it comes to personal protective equipment – or PPE – our goal at Flents is to make safety simple. We call this “Do It YourSelf Care” and we’re here to demystify any complexities of care.
One question that comes up over and again is whether reusable masks or disposable masks are better for protection against small airborne particles. Google “benefits of disposable face masks” and you’re bound to get differing views on whether the throw-away paper masks are ideal or not. Since we’re here to demystify the world of “Do It YourSelf Care,” we’ll break it down nice and simple.
To understand the benefits of disposable masks, we need to first talk about the different types of common face masks available on the market today. Keep in mind effectiveness is relative to wearing the mask properly to reduce potential contact by the wearer.
Types of Face Masks
N95 Face Masks (disposable)
N95 masks have been deemed the Cadillac of face masks, and are, according to OSHA, effective in protecting against COVID-19. These masks block 95% of small airborne particles. These masks have been widely reserved for essential workers, however are becoming more available. Flents offers two versions under the PROTECHS® label: a foldable N95 Respirator Mask, and a round N95 Respirator Mask. Both comply with OSHA regulations and are NIOSH® approved.
Surgical Face Masks (disposable)
Traditionally worn in hospitals for procedures and in surgical suites, surgical masks are generally thin and loose fitting. They do help protect from spreading potentially infectious droplets between individuals. Flents offers both a standard surgical earloop mask and a medical-grade earloop mask, both under the PROTECHS label.
Cloth Face Masks (reusable)
The rise in cloth masks happened in response to diminished N95 and surgical mask availability at the beginning of 2020. Although an N95 has been proven to be the best defense against COVID-19, cloth masks are surprisingly effective if worn correctly. The most effective cloth masks are made from at least two layers of fabric with a thread count of 180 or more and can be adjusted for a close fit around the face. In an effort to preserve supply for essential workers, many organizations including John Hopkins were offering patterns for home-made cloth masks. Fitted with a disposable mask liner, these masks can provide excellent protection up to 99% Bacterial Filter Efficiency.
Other Types of Face Masks (reusable)
In addition to paper and cloth face masks, people are also using face shields, bandanas, and neck gaiters to protect themselves.
Since the purpose of the face shield is to provide more coverage to the wearer’s face – especially their eyes – face shields are used commonly in conjunction with a face mask. Face shields are common in schools because of the sustained close contact, but according to the CDC, they are not effective as a standalone preventative measure or as a replacement for a face mask.
Bandanas and neck gaiters, are better than nothing, but neither provide effective coverage. Being open at the bottom, a bandana does not filter all air. The popular neck gaiter is often too thin to provide adequate protection.
So, what are the benefits of disposable masks?
- N95 disposable face masks are most effective. As mentioned above, according to OSHA, an N95 mask is effective in protecting wearers from the virus that causes COVID-19. It’s hard to argue with that kind of endorsement.
- Disposable face masks are disposable. This is obvious – but why is it important? Face masks are designed to protect against particles and droplets. If you come into contact with contaminated particles, throwing away your mask after use reduces the risk of the virus transferring to other surfaces and potentially infecting the wearer.
- Disposable face masks are more likely to have gone through the NIOSH approval process. NIOSH approval means that your mask has gone through rigorous testing and has met or exceeded standards for particle blockage, filtration and safety.
- Disposable face masks don’t need to be washed. Many people who use reusable masks don’t remember to (or realize they need to) keep their mask clean. Ideally, cloth masks should be washed daily in hot, soapy water, and dried completely. When was the last time you washed your reusable face mask?
- Disposable face masks are easy to keep on hand. We recommend keeping some disposable face masks on hand in the car, your purse, at your desk and anywhere else you may come in close contact with others. If you forget your reusable mask, a disposable mask is an easy back-up. Just remember to store extra masks in a plastic bag or other enclosed space so they don’t get contaminated before use.
Deciding what type of mask is right for you is a personal decision. Disposable face masks certainly have different advantages than reusable face masks, but both can be effective when used correctly and in conjunction with social distancing. Whatever you decide is right for you and your family, Flents is here to help you “Do It YourSelf Care.”
Mayo Clinic: COVID-19: How much protection do face masks offer?
Hartford HealthCare: Cloth Mask vs. Surgical Mask: The Surprising COVID-19 Winner
John’s Hopkins Medicine: Coronavirus Face Masks & Protection FAQs
NPR: A User's Guide To Masks: What's Best At Protecting Others (And Yourself)
FDA: N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, and Face Masks