Group Test: The Best Face Masks And Coverings
To keep us safe in these weird times we bought some of the most popular face mask designs, wore them extensively while going about our daily routines and wrote up the results in case they are useful.
All of them got a big tick for being a face covering but only one was comfy enough for all day wear and made us feel suitably protected.
- Masks with ear loops and a Velcro fastening at the back are all day comfortable
- Breathing valves let the hot air out, keeping the mask cool and your glasses not steamed up
- N95 standard filters can trap up to 95% of particles
- PM2.5 describes really small particles
- Read up on how to put them on safely - here's a handy video
Amazon has a useful best selling masks page you can check out.
What Is It?
It's a clever two layer system which costs roughly £20. The inside filter is the bit that does all the work, capturing small particles. Each filter has two large holes for attaching it to the outer mask with two twist together valves; the valves securely click into a locked position.
The valves allow air out but not in. When you breath out the hot moist air is easily released, but when you breath in they clamp down and the new incoming air is forced through the filter. Like the outer layer the valves are easy to wash and dry quickly.
There are a few filters in the pack to get you started and it takes seconds to switch over to a fresh one, meaning each filter can sit quietly in a corner for three days before being used again.
Replacement filters and valves are available on Amazon and arrive quickly.
Directing customers at the front door - May 2020
Finally, the black outer layer is what makes the system work well. There is a pinch to fit nose clip for a tight seal, ear loops to keep the mask in place while active and an adjustable Velcro fastening at the back.
Most mask designs put all the load on the ears, which soon become sore, but this one distributes it evenly on the back of the neck.
The outer layer is a kind of woven plastic mesh which is soft, flexible, easy to wash and quick to dry. We also found it softens with use and moulds to your face, making it super comfy with a good fit.
All of these attributes make it great for all day use, easy to breath through and easy to clean overnight so it's ready for the next day.
Even better, once you have a few of them, the filters and valves are interchangeable. This lets you cycle through the outer mask, filter and valve sets every day and ensures the previous few days worth have plenty of time to sit in a dark corner before the next use. We have taken to numbering the filters with a black sharpie so it's easy to cycle through them in order.
- Loads of people ask about it and where to get one from
- The filter covers your whole mouth and nose
- Easy to buy replacement filters and valves
- Super breathable with two valves
- As comfy as a mask can be
- Really easy to clean
This design is slightly more expensive but oh so worth it for the all day comfort and easy breathing.
What Is It?
It's an N95 / FFP2 filter with a couple of elasticated ear loops, an adjustable nose clip and exhaust valve. They are roughly £4 per mask.
- The grey finish doesn't look "medical" like the standard white N95 respirators
- The elasticated loops are made of a super soft material that's really comfy
- The nose clip gives a really tight fit
- Reassuring level of filtration
- Extremely breathable
We use it for the weekly shop with roughly an hour of wear at a time. It feels comfy, breathable and reassuringly safe but without the white medical look.
They can't really be washed but with 3-4 of them you can cycle through them with a different one each day.
What Is It?
It's a fabric mask contoured to match your face for a good fit, held in place with two elastic ear loops. They are roughly £5 each and are usually purchased in packs of two.
Inside there's a sleeve to accommodate a rectangular filter which is larger than it looks in the photos.
Despite placing all the load on your ears this design is actually quite comfortable. Not all day comfortable, but totally fine for the odd trip.
- Comfortable for short periods
- Loads of designs available
- Adjustable ear loops
- Cheap filters
Compared to a home made face mask we would go with this all day long and it's good value. There's a downside though and that's how easy it is to breath through it.
Short periods were absolutely fine but extended periods or trying to do heavy lifting with it soon highlighted the issue. We ended up using them without the filters as a basic face covering for quickly darting into shops.
What Is It?
A basic cloth mask with elasticated ear loops and sometimes an adjustable nose clip. They are typically purchased in packs of 10 to 50 pieces which helps keep the cost down to below 50 pence per mask.
- Use once then dispose of it sensibly
- Super cheap to buy
- Very breathable
By default they are usually blue but recently more stylish black versions have become available and the single use nature can help with any concerns around re-using a mask. Just remember to dispose of the mask responsibly.
The main issues are that you could potentially get through a lot of them if you intend on all day use, they generate a lot of rubbish and they don't filter the air like some of the options above.
What Is An N95 Filter
The N95 standard means that the filter traps 95% of particles in the air passing through it, ranging from really small particles like pathogens to larger particles like dust. Think of it like firing arrows through a wood - a few might make it through but 95% will hit something and end up stuck in the wood.
N95 filters are usually constructed from a number of different layers sandwiched together, with a skin friendly layer last. Each layer attempts to trap different sized particles in different ways while still allowing enough air flow for you to breathe easily.
Check out this interesting tear down video of a premium 3M N95 respirator mask, complete with a microscope view of each layer.
What Does PM2.5 Mean
PM stands for Particulate Matter and 2.5 refers to the size of the particles. They are so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye and are 25 to 100 times thinner than a human hair.
Larger particles like dust, mould and pollen are refereed to as PM10 but there are plenty of smaller particles floating around in the air we breathe like viruses and nasty exhaust emissions.