All masks are not created equal. And one mask does not fit all. There’s a reason why the gold standard for disposable face masks, the N95, requires fit tests in clinical settings. A fit test consists of a series of checks to find the right size of mask for use on a job.
An excellent fitting mask can save your life if you’re a doctor working with a COVID patient; therefore, a tight seal is necessary to keep air out. Doctors and nurses who typically use N95 respirators undergo fit testing once a year to ensure they’re wearing the mask with the correct seal.
For the public, however, fit testing for a mask isn’t feasible, and N95 masks aren’t, for the most part, necessary. Surgical masks and cloth masks can help curb the spread of infection, and in many cases, those masks are all that’s needed.
Noticeably, surgical masks and cloth masks don’t always give you the best seal around your face. For people with small heads or thin faces, masks can droop or pucker on the sides, creating tunnels and crevices for air to flow through.
With face masks, you want to be able to breathe freely. You also want the air you breathe in to flow through your face mask, not through the accidental openings around the mask. If your face mask doesn’t fit properly, unfiltered air will flow in and out through areas on the side that aren’t flush against the skin.
Surgical and cloth masks will never have the tight seal that N95 masks do. But there are a few ways you can improve the fit and function of your mask.
6. Don’t Use a Mask with a Valve
Valve masks protect the user, but they don’t protect everyone else. Because COVID-19 may also spread through people who have no symptoms, every person must assume they are infectious. Masks with valves allow the user to breathe out potentially infectious particles, thus are not recommended.
5. Avoid Materials with Loose Weaves
If you’re choosing a cloth mask, opt for materials with tight weaves that allow air to pass through, like cotton and silk. You want droplets and viruses to get caught in the fabric, not pass through the mask. Scarves and thin t-shirts don’t provide the appropriate level of air filtration necessary to trap viruses.