Over the past two years, masks have become commonplace in most public settings, as has conversation about which type of mask offers the most protection. Often, this conversation comes down to cloth masks vs filter masks and which one offers the best protection against COVID-19 and other viruses. Today, we’re going to tell you more about your different mask options so you’re well informed to make the best decision for yourself.

Cloth Masks vs Filter Masks: Which One Offers the Best Protection?

To help explain which options are most effective, let’s talk more about how the different kinds of masks work.

Cloth masks

At the beginning of the pandemic when many people were rushing to find masks to cover their face, cloth masks quickly became the go-to in non-medical settings. This is because they were easily accessible, reusable, and could even be made at home. Cloth masks consist of one or more layers of fabric as well as elastic loops or hoops that fit over the ear. They do not usually include wire at the nose so they do not fit as securely as some other options. A mask with a single layer of fabric offers very little protection from COVID-19 and other infections. However, it does satisfy the face covering requirement for travel.  If you do plan on wearing a cloth mask instead of other options, look for one with at least three layers of fabric. This offers better protection than thinner masks and can filter out more particles. 

Filter/respirator masks 

Another option that’s become the gold standard for offering the best protection against COVID-19 is N95 masks. The 95 means they filter out 95% or more of airborne particles, which is more than any other option. If you’re buying these masks, be sure to look for “NIOSH Approved” on the label. Otherwise, they are counterfeit. These masks are approved for medical settings and satisfy rigorous requirements put forth by the CDC. Another common option you’re hearing more and more about is KN95 masks. These masks are similar to N95s, except they satisfy standards put forth by China rather than the United States. You can tell these masks apart from N95s because they have a seam down the middle that makes it easy to fold them in half.  N95s and Kn95s both offer better protection than cloth masks. However, N95s are considered the superior option. Plenty of research points to this, including this 2020 study, that finds up to 70% of Chinese KN95 masks tested by ECRI don’t meet minimum standards in the US. 

What about surgical masks?

One of the other common types of masks you’ll see a lot of are surgical masks. They can offer effective protection against wet droplets (including those from a cough or sneeze). However, they don’t fit as well as N95 masks and are not effective against the very tiny particles that can transmit COVID. 

Cloth Masks vs Filter Masks: Recap

Now, let’s recap the cloth masks vs filter masks conversation. Filter masks or respirator masks (including N95 masks) offer better protection than cloth masks. Disposable surgical masks are another option that also offers better protection than most cloth masks. If given a choice between all of these types of masks, N95s offer superior protection.  Do you want to talk more about protecting yourself against COVID-19? Or the best practices for staying healthy all-year round? Contact us today to book an appointment with one of our doctors.