Which Type of Face Mask is Best and Why?

The state of California just announced that face masks are required to be worn while out in public. While mostly everyone is already used to wearing face coverings, there are still a lot of questions surrounding which masks are most beneficial for people. The CDC recommends cloth or 3ply disposable masks as they are effective at preventing the virus from spreading but also do not impede on our ability to breathe. So, what kind of mask is best? Cloth, N95, or disposable?

COVID-19 spreads from person to person via small respiratory droplets. These are generated when a person with the virus exhales, coughs, or sneezes. You can contract the virus if you breathe in these droplets, so it is important to keep a face covering on to stop the spread. Respiratory droplets containing the virus can also land on various objects or surfaces. Touching a contaminated object or surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth can also lead to infection, so it equally important to keep your hands clean after touching foreign surfaces and objects.

According to a randomized trial study comparing disposable masks to N95 masks done by Lewis J. Radonovich Jr, MD; Michael S. Simberkoff, MD; Mary T. Bessesen, MD, surgical face masks and N95 respirators reduced participant risk of various respiratory illnesses in similar ways. So, while it is true that N95’s are more expensive and have a higher filtration quality, they stop the spread of disease in nearly identical ways. Contrary to what some believe, N95 and KN95 masks are not ideal for everyday use as they are filtering masks and can make it uncomfortable to breathe; so disposable masks beat out those in terms of best facemask to wear for everyday use.

Disposable masks main uses are to protect the wearer from sprays, splashes, and large-particle droplets as well as prevent the spread of potentially infectious respiratory secretions from the wearer to others. While cloth masks also act as a protective barrier, they are less effective at protecting the wearer because most have gaps near the nose, cheeks, and jaw where tiny droplets can be inhaled. Also, the fabric is often woven and porous so it cannot keep out tiny droplets. While homemade face masks offer some degree of protection, they offer a lot less protection than surgical masks. Some studies actually indicate that homemade face masks may be half as effective as surgical masks even.

No matter what kind of face mask you wear, covering your mouth and nose does help stop the spread of disease more than no mask at all. But when it comes down to which type is most effective, disposable surgical masks come out on top. Whichever you choose to wear, it is important above all else to stay protected and stay healthy.