Everything you need to know about face masks

Face masks are going to be with us for quite some time and so you want to have a mask that is both stylish and practical. But which type of face mask is ideal for you?

Firstly how long will you be wearing your face mask, a quick dash into the shops, on the way to work, taking the dog for a walk, a doctor's appointment, when travelling on public transport? These are all things you have to consider. You'll want something that's comfortable to wear for however long you want to wear it. You'll also want something you only have to buy once and can reuse it and wash it at home with ease, without having to faff around changing filters. Secondly, do you want to protect others from your breath incase you have the virus but don't have symptoms, or do you want to protect yourself and others, so you don't get infected. And finally you want something you feel comfortable and safe in.

The best face masks are FFP2 and FFP3 specification. (FFP3 is N95 in the US, FFP prefixes are European standards).

Homemade face masks are usually a couple of layers of quilters cotton, with either a pocket inside for a disposable filter, without a filter pocket, or with a couple of layers of cotton or cotton with dress interfacing stitched in. They can be made out of second hand bedding and clothing, so unless you know the maker has boiled the fabric to sterilise it, one can only imagine the bacteria and goodness knows what else is lurking amongs the threads.

Everyone's making homemade masks, the patterns are easy to download for free on the internet, but are they any good? Yes and no. You only have to look on a well known US/UK crafter/maker website store to see the dozens of different types of face mask for sale, from the most useless being a 2 layer cheesecloth to a slightly better low filtration cloth mask. Even in the stores and supermarkets you can buy face masks that are sub standard and do not comply with the specifications set out by AFNOR and WHO. And to be honest, you're better off keeping your pennies in your pocket.

In my opinion if you're going to buy and wear a mask, you need to ask what it's made of, what materials are inside it, what do they use for filters. There are some dreadful examples of homemade masks with muslin, towelling, cotton, cut up vacuum cleaner bags, and some hepa filters (some hepa filters contain fibreglass, not ideal to be breathing in).

So when you look at face masks and you're not sure what the filter materials are and they're not listed on the packaging or the makers website or online store, ask. Otherwise if you buy something without finding out what it's made of it could be totally useless or downright dangerous to your health.

I bought what I thought were very good face masks at the beginning of lockdown, made by a very good company who I'd bought household linens and bedding from in the past. So I assumed they'd be good quality masks and protect me. It wasn't until I read up on the virus, how it moves, what it can penetrate, the size of the droplets, and the fabrics that can stop it reaching your nose, mouth and lungs, that I realised those expensive masks I'd bought were next to useless. They had used polypropylene which is one of the recommended filter materials, but it wasn't the breathable type. This wasn't a problem until you realised the upper edge of the mask was unwired, so virus droplets could get in through the gaps between the mask and my cheeks and nose. So I bought some nose wires online, they stick to the outside of the masks and you bend them around your nose to seal the air gap there. Viola! I thought. Sussed that problem out and solved it. But I hadn't. What I had done was stopped air getting in and out which included my breath. once the top edge was sealsed it was like trying to breath through a plastic bag. Horrendous. So the expensive face masks went in the bin.

My masks comply to AFNOR Barrier Mask specifications - S76-001:2020

I'm pretty sure there must be others out there who make their masks to the same specs. It took me almost a week to track down the information on recommendations, regulations, materials and specifications for homemade face masks. The information is available but you have to search for it. My masks, and probably some others, are made from the recommended fabric/materials and offer the correct protection for others and for the wearer depending on the face mask chosen.

Now I had all the information I needed to make my own face masks. I downloaded some patterns online, but after making one of each design none of them seemed to fit properly, so I messed around with designs and in the end designed my own. They fit all around the edge, the nose wire goes from side to side, not just over the nose, and the ear loops can be adjusted if need be. They washable, reusable, and a pretty good price, considering the cost of the recommended materials I have to buy. After making a couple for friends, and myself, word of mouth got around and that's how this whole thing started with me selling my face masks.

If you really want to get techy and understand the differences here it is.

What's the difference between a simple face mask and a respirator mask

A Simple Cloth Face Mask - No rating - has no filter and usually comprises of 2 to 4 layers of folded fabric or paper. These are not generally rated like the FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 masks, as they provide only a small amount of protection for the wearer and others, probably the same amount of protection as wearing a scarf over your mouth and nose would. These types of mask are generally available from individuals who make them at home. Some may have inner pockets to put a disposable filter in raising their rating slightly.

A Basic Respirator Face Mask - FFP1 - protects someone else but not you, so if you cough or sneeze most of the droplets are contained within your mask but only gives a little protection for you if someone sneezes or coughs in your face. Ideally to be worn if you think you may have symptoms and to prevent asymptomatic spread of the virus by the wearer.

A Hi Spec Respirator Mask - FFP2/3 - protects both you and others, if you sneeze or cough someone else is protected and if they sneeze or cough you are protected. The filtration stops inward and outward passing viruses and is recommended by WHO and health officials usually for frontline health workers. Respirator masks with valves look more superior, after all they have snazzy round filter on the front, but hold on! That filter acts as jet stream of your breath which, if you were infected, would project your breath droplets many feet further than a basic mask would. Scientist have said to avoid those type of masks completely. They're usually more expensive too for some reason.

And what's the difference between FFP1, FFP2/N95 and FFP3 Masks?

The difference is the filter capacity, the amount and size of particles they stop penetrating both incoming and outgoing. They are made of a fabric designed to filter the air or impurities based on a grading system to indicate how much protection they offer for the wearer or/and for others.

Filter Capacity (removes x% of of all particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter or larger)

ie; what percentage of particles does each specific mask filter.

FFP1 Basic Face Mask 80% - outgoing particles only

FFP2/N95 Respirator Mask 94%-95% - incoming and outgoing particles

FFP3 Respirator Mask - 99% - incoming and outgoing particles

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