Category: Masks

Is it time to upgrade your face mask?

An update to our previous post: Should I wear a face covering?

By now, many of us have built up a small collection of reusable face masks that we have on rotation. But with the new variant spreading quickly and reports from overseas about higher-grade medical masks being required in some public places, it is time to take stock of what you’re using to cover your face.

Growing concerns about the faster-spreading COVID-19 variants have prompted France to ban certain homemade masks from being worn in public in favour of higher-grade ones, while Germany and Austria now require ‘filtering face piece’ (FFP) masks to be worn on public transport and in shops.

There is no such change here yet, though a BSI Flex Standard is in development which would set a minimum limit on filtration efficiency (i.e. how well the mask blocks particles from escaping).

The advice until now has largely been that for the public, reusable face coverings are a more practical, economical and environmental option than higher-grade medical masks, which are needed by healthcare professionals and are often single-use, and require specialist fitting to be effective.

For now, this advice still stands, though the World Health Organisation (WHO) does advise if you are older or vulnerable to consider wearing a disposable surgical mask in some circumstances.

But if your reusable masks are looking a bit tired and worn, don’t fit well, or only have one or two layers, it’s time to upgrade your personal protective arsenal.

There are big differences between how effective different face coverings are. As a general rule, more layers are better, though you’ll also want to be able to breathe comfortably.

What is an FFP mask and do you need one?

FFP masks are designed to protect the wearer from breathing particles in, as well as filtering exhalations. These masks must comply with British Standard EN149:2001 and be CE marked. FFP masks should be moulded to the face, to create a seal where no air can slip out. They are labelled one, two or three, according to filtration efficiency.

FFP2 and FFP3 masks filter above 94% and 99% of bacteria respectively, so these are the ones being referred to. FFP2 respirators are roughly the equivalent of N95 masks in the US or KN95 respirators in China.

However, they aren’t very practical for everyday use by the public on a global scale, for cost, environment and supply reasons.

They’re mostly single use, so the impact on the environment is significant, and keeping up a regular supply of these will take a toll on your finances too. If there’s a sudden rush to buy these masks, we could be facing similar concerns about lack of PPE for frontline staff as was seen last spring.

The other caution is that these masks really need to be fitted properly to do the job – otherwise air will just escape around the edges (particularly if you have any facial hair).

Reusable masks can have highly effective filtration

The French ban on homemade face coverings applies to ‘fabric masks with lesser filtering qualities’ of around 70%.

The worst offenders are the single-layer stretchy masks.

The face coverings that were rated highest for filtration are able to block more than 99% of bacterial particles penetrating the mask material.

It should be noted that coronavirus particles can be much smaller (as little as 0.1 micrometre in diameter), but measuring bacterial filtration efficiency is the standard test for products of this type and gives an idea of how well face coverings provide a barrier for particles generally, using bacteria as a proxy.

Upgrading your face covering

There are several options for improving how effective your face covering is:

New mask, more layers – opt for a mask with either two layers and a filter pocket or three layers. Make sure it fits your face snugly. If you have a larger or smaller face, look for a mask that has several size options or adjustable straps for a closer fit.

Additional layers – if you have an unused filter pocket, you can either buy some disposable filters, or try using kitchen roll or coffee filters, both of which add another layer of filtration to your mask.

Read more at the Which magazine website

Efficacy of Face Shields Against Cough Aerosol Droplets from…

Efficacy of Face Shields Against Cough Aerosol Droplets from a Cough Simulator

This is a very interesting study undertaken a few years ago into the efficacy of face shields as protection against coughing. This used one of our machines to simulate the inhaling human. We are now looking to develop the existing machines ability to produce the coughing airflow. It could then effectively perform both parts of this test arrangement. The same arrangement could of course be set up to test other forms of face covering – masks etc.

Face mask efficacy test set up diagram

Mask effectiveness

A video showing researchers in Japan testing masks using the real coronavirus:

Don’t try this at home, folks…

What are the different types of face masks/coverings?

What are the different types of face masks/coverings?

This post describes the different types of face mask and coverings that are widely seen during this pandemic. It describes the three main types : Cloth masks, medical masks and N95 respirators. It also discusses when you might need a face mask.

Cloth or Paper Masks

Cloth mask
Typical cloth mask

These masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and help keep people who unknowingly have the virus from transmitting it to others. Thick, densely woven cottons are good materials for cloth masks.

Procedural and Surgical Masks

Paper mask
Paper surgical mask

These are loose-fitting masks designed to cover the mouth and nose.

Although they are not close fitting, the blue disposable masks commonly seen are fluid resistant and provide some protection from larger respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. Primarily, they help prevent the wearer from spreading infectious droplets to others. Like N95 respirators, these masks are used by health care workers whose safety depends on an adequate supply. They cannot be washed.

Professional Respirators

N95 respirator

Called N95 respirators, these medical devices help prevent exposure to tiny droplets that can be suspended in the air. Health care workers who wear them undergo a fit-test to find the right make, model and size to ensure a tight seal. N95 respirators should be reserved for health care providers and first responders.

What is a face shield?

A face shield is a piece of rigid, clear plastic attached to a headband. The plastic piece covers the face, extending to below the chin.

You might have seen face shields on some health care providers, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Dentists and dental hygienists sometimes wear them when working close to patients’ mouths. Doctors, nurses and technologists might use face shields, together with face masks, when performing procedures that could propel blood or other substances into the air.

Face shield

Should I wear a face shield?

In general, if you wear a mask and maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet between you and other people when in public places, you do not need a face shield. Wearing a mask will help contain your respiratory droplets. Avoid close contact with anyone who is not wearing a mask. If you must be in close contact with someone not wearing a mask, then a face shield or other type of eye protection may provide some additional protection from virus transmission.

For further information see:

For further information see:

Our post on upgrading your mask

Should I wear a face covering?

Should I wear a face covering?

COVID-19 image

Understanding how Covid-19 spreads

COVID-19 spreads through droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can be inhaled by other people or land on surfaces that other people may touch and then ingest by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. 

Guidance on whether face coverings should be worn by the general population as well has been very mixed with guidance varying in different countries around the world. 

What are face coverings?

A face covering is a piece of material that safely covers the nose and mouth. They can be made out of a variety of breathable fabrics, such as cotton.

Face coverings are not the same as medical or surgical masks that are used in hospital settings as personal protective equipment (PPE).

Who’s being advised to wear face coverings?

In England and Scotland you are required by law to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is more difficult. You must wear a mask specifically when travelling on public transport, using indoor transport hubs (eg, train stations and airports), when going to shops and supermarkets, and when visiting indoor shopping centres, banks, building societies and post offices.

From 8 August in England there will be more places where you must wear a face covering, including cinemas, theatres and museums.

In Wales (from 27 July) and Northern Ireland you must wear a face covering when using public transport. You’re also advised to wear one in places where it’s difficult to keep two metres from others, such as supermarkets, but they’re not compulsory at the moment.

What if I can’t wear a face covering?

If you’re particularly worried about wearing one, you may want to try one out around the house first to get used to it and find one you’re comfortable in. There are lots of different styles and materials available you could try.

If you feel that wearing a face covering would cause you harm or severe distress then you don’t have to wear one.

You don’t need to provide any written evidence that says you don’t have to wear a face covering. However you might find it helpful to carry an exemption card or badge with you to help other people understand why you’re not wearing one. You can download a card or badge from the government website. Alternatively you could make your own sign.

The benefits of face coverings

The evidence on the use of simple face coverings is limited, however they may be of some benefit when worn in enclosed public places where it’s more difficult to follow social distancing rules.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said that the use of face coverings in public places may reduce the spread of infection in the community when worn by people who might not realise they’re infected. This is why some countries are encouraging people to wear them in public places.

So face coverings don’t protect you; they protect others you may come into contact with, if you have the virus and don’t realise it yet.

The risks of wearing face coverings

The use of face coverings by the general public more widely in the community may carry extra risks. 

If everyone wears them there is concern it may create a false sense of security leading people to neglect other social distancing measures – like regular handwashing and keeping at least two meters away from others. 

As well as this, face coverings need to be used safely in order to be effective. If used incorrectly there’s a risk of self-contamination. Anyone wearing a face covering should understand how to wear, remove and wash them in the correct way.  

How can I make my own face covering?

You could use existing items of clothing like bandanas or scarves. Alternatively, some people are making their own using various textiles like cotton fabric.

The UK government has issued guidance on how to make and wear your own face covering. Alternatively, there are various patterns and tutorials available for free online (like this one).

If you are making your own face covering, consider the number of layers, the breathability of the material, its water repellence qualities, and the shape and fit of the mask. 

Keep up with other social distancing measures

It’s important to remember that face coverings aren’t a replacement for other social distancing measures.  

Preventative measures like physical distancing, hand hygiene and avoiding touch your face, nose, eyes and mouth should continue to be followed too. These are most effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Finally, if you do experience symptoms of COVID-19 you must stay at home and follow the guidance on self-isolating. Wearing a face covering does not change this guidance.

See external links:

World health organisation