Not All Cloth Face Masks Come With Filters—Here’s Where to Buy Your Own
Experts say they'll make your masks more effective.
We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year when terms like coronavirus, COVID-19, ‘social distancing,’ and ‘flatten the curve’ first trickled their way into our vocabularies. It’s hard to believe that as recently as April, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that everyone wear cloth face coverings in public settings if social distancing isn’t possible, mass-produced masks were hard to come by. While it was once necessary to make your own cloth face mask, you can now easily purchase one online from countless retailers (yes, even Amazon has a slew of popular options) as many brands quickly pivoted their resources to help ensure everyone has access to a mask.
Of course, not all face coverings are equally effective. The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face mask made with multiple layers of fabric that fully covers your mouth and nose, and fits tight enough on your face that there are no gaps. The World Health Organization (WHO) also advises wearing cloth face masks made with high quality materials, like cotton, that have a high thread count. Plus, it advocates for masks with three layers of fabric: a water-absorbing inner layer, a middle layer that acts as a filter, and a water-resistant outer layer. Studies further show that covering your face with multiple layers of tightly woven fabric is important when it comes to protecting those around you from respiratory droplets that can carry disease.
If you’re making your own masks or purchasing them online, you may want to consider buying replaceable filter inserts for added safety. “A filter adds another layer of protection to your mask because it increases the amount of droplets you filter out,” says Sandra Kesh, MD, deputy medical director and infectious disease specialist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, N.Y. She adds that this benefits both the person wearing the mask and those around them.
The most important factors to look for when buying filters for face masks are layers and high quality materials. Dr. Kesh recommends buying filters that are N95- or KN95-grade now that many are available online. The only caveat is that filters are supposed to be changed daily. “A standard filter is really best if used only once,” says Dr. Kesh. “If you must reuse it, be sure to hand wash it after use." However, keep in mind that every time you wash a filter, it becomes less effective. For this reason, you may want to consider stocking up on multiple filters at once so you always have a fresh one at your disposal.
As cities begin to reopen businesses, it’s more important than ever to protect yourself and others in public places by wearing an effective face covering when you’re not able to stay six feet apart. “Wearing masks only works if everyone wears them,” Dr. Kesh says, adding that “something is better than nothing.”
Ahead, take a look at six face mask filters you can stock up on now to follow the advice of Dr. Kesh, the CDC, and the WHO by wearing a layered, snug-fitting cloth face mask in public.
You can stock up on activated carbon filters with this affordable set of 20 from Amazon. They’re specifically made to use inside cloth face masks that come with filter valves, and will filter 99 percent of air particles.
To buy: $28; amazon.com.