In the ever changing world of COVID-19, it seems like every day we get new advice. Should we wear masks? Keep them for healthcare workers? Make our own? Check out our infographic for more information on what you need to stay protected and safe.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world, the WHO and CDC repeatedly recommended that healthy people should not wear masks
- BUT, on April 3, 2020, the CDC reversed its decision, recommending all Americans wear face coverings when in public to slow the spread
Should You Wear A Mask?
- Even Expert Opinions Differ
- Recommends wearing a mask in
- Public settings where distancing is difficult
- Areas of significant community transmission
- BUT, stresses that masks
- Should not as a replace other social distancing measures
- Should be cloth or homemade, not surgical or N95 masks
- Recommends wearing a mask in
- Recommends wearing a mask if
- Caring for a person with suspected COVID
- You yourself are sick, coughing, or sneezing
- BUT, stress that masks
- Are only effective when the wearer knows how to use them
- Are not a replacement for frequent hand washing or sanitizing
- Recommends wearing a mask if
- The Science: When Do Masks Work?
- In China, an estimated 86% of infections with covid went undocumented*
- Undocumented cases accounted for 79% of transmission
- In laboratory trials, wearing a face mask has proven to prevent particles from getting through — demonstrating that mask can protect others from infection by the wearer
- Since COVID can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers, this form of protection may be critical to slowing the spread
- According to one study, wearing masks and frequently using hand sanitizer can reduce flu transmission by up to 50%
- The novel coronavirus is about 3X as infectious as flu* so even a minor reduction could make a huge difference
- Since the creation of N95 respirators, which proved effective for stopping the spread of tuberculosis and other viruses, little research has been on cloth masks
- In China, an estimated 86% of infections with covid went undocumented*
As coronavirus spread, many experts suggest that the spread was better controlled in China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan because in those countries use of face masks is not just recommended, but culturally expected
- In the U.S., people of color fear wearing masks in public as they could be mistaken for a robber —On March 18th, police kicked 2 black men out of a Walmart for wearing face coverings
How To Use A Mask
- “We need to change our perception that masks are only for sick people and that it’s weird or shameful to wear one … If more people donned masks it would become a social norm as well as a public health good.” — Robert Hecht, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, Yale School of Medicine
- “To beat the coronavirus, everyone should wear a mask.” — Dr. Chris Martenson PhD, Pathology, Duke University, Peak Prosperity
- Making A Mask
Nearly 90% of U.S. cities report a shortage of face masks need to protect emergency responders and healthcare workers — Rather that using this critical supply, create your own mask at home
- If you can sew
- Cut your fabric into 10” by 6” rectangles and layer together
- Hem ¼” along the top and bottom — and ½” along each side
- Thread your ear loops or ties through each side and stitch in place
- Ties can be made from elastic, string, ribbon, shoe laces, or fabric
- If you can’t sew
- Start with a bandana or fabric cut in a 20” square
- Fold in thirds — adding a coffee filter for added protection if desired
- Place rubber bands or hair ties over each end
- Fold the sides over the rubber bands to meet in the center
- A study comparing the effectiveness of homemade masks found that filtration improved with
- Higher thread count fabrics
- Finer mesh gauze
- Additional layers of cloth
- Materials, Ranked By Most Effective
- Fine muslin cloth
- Layered gauze with cotton cloth
- Layered gauze
- Donning & Doffing
- Wash your hands, or use hand sanitizer
- Before putting on a mask
- After taking off your mask
- Any time you have to touch your mask
- Avoid touching your mask
- Hold your mask by the ear loops or ties whenever possible
- Adjust for fit when you first put the mask on, then leave it alone
- Use a mask as a reminder not to touch your face
- Adjust the mask so your nose and mouth are covered, with no gaps
- Replace any mask that is damp or wet and do not reuse without washing
- Wash your hands, or use hand sanitizer
- Cleaning Cloth Masks
- Place used masks in a closed container until cleaned to prevent contamination of your home — When necessary, dispose of masks in a lidded, lined trash bin
- Wash your used masks with hot water and everyday detergent
- Use the hottest setting on your dryer, ensure masks are completely dry before reuse
- If you don’t have a washing machine, or are concerned it doesn’t get hot enough
- Soak your mask in 10:1 bleach water
- Boil masks in a pot of water for 10 minutes
- Then, hand wash or launder as usual
Everyone should have a collection of masks — at least 2 — enough to fit their laundry habits and regular outings with one to spare so a supply is always available
- “The value of the mask isn’t necessarily to protect you from getting sick, although it may offer some protection. It’s to protect you from other people. So when someone who’s infected is wearing a mask, they’re much less likely to transmit infection.” — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA Commissioner
Stay Safe. Wear a Mask.
This is not medical advice. For the latest information on COVID-19 visit cdc.gov/coronavirus. Consult your doctor if you are feeling ill.
Face masks are one of the most essential pieces of gear to add to your supplies. They can protect you from invisible threats like smoke inhalation, pollution, dust, and infections that could otherwise damage your lungs or leave your family ill.
We researched various types of face masks available today to find the ten best face masks for survival purposes. Read on to find our picks and to find out why face masks should be a part of your preps.
1. Vogmask VMCV Face Mask
The Vogmask VMCV is a reusable face mask originally designed to protect participants of Burning Man from the dangerous playa dust. It incorporates some of the most advanced and lightweight N95 and active carbon filtering systems into a comfortable mask that’s easy to wear for hours on end.
Why we like it: Excellent filtration plus a huge variety of patterns and colors. It allows you to find the perfect mask to match your style while still enjoying some of the best protection available from PM2.5 and PM10 particles.
Flaws: Its cloth construction and exhalation valve make it unsuitable for use during a pandemic. It can be cleaned, but it isn’t currently possible to disinfect it in any reliable way.
2. Unigear Upgrade Activated Carbon Dust Proof Face Mask
This face mask offers comprehensive protection against PM2.5 particles, dust, ash, and other potentially dangerous airborne particles. It’s made with a neoprene shell plus replaceable filter elements and a pair of exhalation valves. These help keep your face cooler and dryer when wearing the mask long term.
Why we like it: The design is lightweight, washable, and uses replaceable filter elements. You can purchase a single mask that fits you well and stock up on filter replacements. It cuts down on your costs while extending the total protection available to you.
Flaws: The full wrap-around neck strap can be uncomfortable for some body types. This is especially true if it gets sweaty or otherwise starts to shift on your skin.
3. 3M Rugged Comfort Quick Latch Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6502QL/49490
The 3M 6502QL is a half-face respirator designed originally as PPE for workers in various industries. It includes comfort-enhancing features designed to improve fit and wearability while still offering exceptional protection against particulate, gas, and vapor based threats.
Why we like it: The low profile fit and high level of protection offered by the 6502Ql is hard to beat. It gives you the same level of respiratory protection as much bulkier masks while still being lightweight and comfortable.
Flaws: You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you try to wear this anywhere but during a serious disaster or on a job site. If you want to blend in while still protecting yourself, this isn’t the face mask to go for.
4. 3M 8511 N95 Respirator
The 8511 is one of the most popular disposable respirators on the market. It’s widely used by contractors, painters, and others working in situations with heightened respiratory irritants. What sets it apart from the rest of the crowd are its enhanced comfort features and the comprehensive protection it offers.
Why we like it: Its included Cool Flow Valve keeps the interior up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler and dryer while also making it 30% easier to breathe.
Flaws: That same Cool Flow Valve allows your exhales to exit the respirator unfiltered. If you’re worried that you’ve been infected in a pandemic situation this mask won’t prevent you from spreading the illness.
5. Scough Filter Scarf
The Scough is an innovative take on the traditional face mask that combines a winter scarf with an effective face mask. It uses replaceable active carbon filter elements plus a specially designed physical filter barrier system. It’s a great system if you’re looking to stay incognito while still protecting yourself and your family.
Why we like it: Combines cold-weather insulation with an effective and replaceable filter system. We love products that provide multiple essential functions in one. Even better, it actually fits children well and includes enough cool patterns that they’ll want to wear it.
Flaws: It’s basically a face mask built into a scarf. During summer or in warm weather climates it’s almost unusable because of the heat. It’s also a lot bulkier than a traditional face mask.
6. WeColor Disposable Earloop Face Masks
The WeColor Disposable Face Masks are basic masks for basic purposes. They’re quite affordable, so you won’t have any qualms about throwing one away as soon as you’re done using it.
Why we like it: Inexpensive, comfortable, and effective against dust and other larger particles. They fit well on most adult faces and give you easy disposable protection against some threats.
Flaws: These aren’t rated to protect against smaller PM2.5 particles or biologicals. They also provide no protection against chemicals. They’re strictly for use as dust masks or to prevent the spread of an illness the wearer has.
7. FighTech N99 Face Mask
The FightTech Face Mask offers effective protection from a range of threats using an innovative design. It combines the comfort of a soft face mask with protection levels usually only found in hard-bodied respirators. It works against dust, pollution, pollen, mold, and other common irritants.
Why we like it: Allows the use of replaceable activated carbon filter elements, extending the lifespan of the mask itself. These are rated at N99, meaning they can reliably remove 99% of potentially dangerous particles.
Flaws: That same rugged design we mentioned also traps a lot of heat. If you’re using this in a warm climate or wildfire conditions you’re going to sweat like crazy. Once the contact points get wet they aren’t nearly as comfortable on your skin.
8. Aniwon PM2.5 Dust Mask for Kids
The Aniwon Dust Mask for Kids are cotton body masks with elastic earloops combined with replaceable carbon filters. This design makes them comfortable enough for kids to wear throughout the day and allows you to quickly exchange filter elements as needed.
Why we like it: Effective PM2.5 dust and pollution mask that actually fits kids well. Even better, they come in such a riot of colors and patterns you’ll be able to find something even the pickiest of kids will want to wear.
Flaws: Like most kid’s face masks, these don’t offer N95 or similar levels of protection. They aren’t rated for use against bacteria or viruses and won’t fully protect them from these threats.
9. UniHow 3-Ply Disposable Dust Mask
UniHow Dust Masks aren’t the most effective or high-performance masks on the market. They’re acceptable against dirt and dust, pollen, and other large particles that can affect some people’s breathing. They’re great if you want to prevent yourself from spreading an illness to the rest of your family.
Why we like it: These are affordable masks that offer basic protection against some threats. They’re comfortable, easy to wear all day, and can reduce the number of irritants and other airborne threats you inhale.
Flaws: No protection against PM2.5 pollution, biological threats, or chemical irritants. As long as you aren’t expecting that though they fulfill their role of helping you breathe a little easier.
10. 3M FF-402 Ultimate FX Full Facepiece Reusable Respirator
The FF-402 is a full-face respirator designed to protect against particulate, gas, and vapor threats. It offers a broad field of view through its face shield and uses a variety of 3M’s high-quality filters. With silicone seals, a Cool Flow Valve, and adjustable six-point harness it’s relatively comfortable for a respirator of its size.
Why we like it: The FF-402 provides comprehensive protection against particulates, gases, and vapors. With the full face shield and replaceable filter system, it keeps you safe from respiratory spray, splashed chemicals, and a variety of other potentially nasty things.
Flaws: It’s only a half step down from a full gas mask. For most threat environments the average prepper will see it’s just too much protection. Given its size, weight, and full coverage it’s unlikely you’ll want to wear it long-term in conditions that don’t require this level of protection.
What’s new with Face Masks
Who should buy a Face Mask?
Face masks are one of the most important pieces of protective gear to add to any survival kit. They make it much safer to move cross country during wildfire conditions or other potentially hazardous weather events. Even better, they can be really beneficial during everyday life.
People who live in cities with low air quality – Air pollution in the US is rising, with many cities now reaching levels of concern for sensitive people (1). The worst types of pollution are those known as PM10 and PM2.5 particles.
PM10 particles are about the size of dust and can irritate the eyes, nose, and mouth. They include things like soot, ash, and debris from mining operations. These can be annoying and painful, but don’t usually have long-term implications.
PM2.5 particles are the real danger. These are tiny little things that can actually settle down into the deepest parts of your lungs or even your blood. They accumulate over time and can cause all kinds of nasty effects down the road (2).
If you’re looking at face masks to protect against pollution you should find one labeled PM2.5. These are certified to protect against both types of painful and dangerous particles.
People living in Pandemic conditions – If you find yourself living through a major epidemic a face mask is one of the best items ways you can protect yourself, your family, and the people around you.
One really important thing to keep in mind is how this works. The majority of face masks won’t actually protect you from individual bacteria or viruses. This is especially true with reusable masks that can’t be properly sanitized (3).
Let’s get a few things straight.
If you’re looking to protect yourself from a major illness most masks aren’t actually that effective. N95 or N99 masks, combined with frequent hand washing and proper disposal, can reduce your risk of infection.
If you have an ample stock of N95 masks and can afford to dispose of one after each use you can protect yourself. The biggest benefit to overall health with masks is preventing the spread.
A quality face mask prevents you from spreading infection. Every time you sneeze or cough a spray of potentially infectious respiratory aerosols is released. Wearing any kind of mask prevents this from landing on surfaces people may touch (4).
People with allergies or asthma – If you or your loved ones have asthma or allergies you know how hard certain times of the year can be. Pollen season can be the trigger for a major asthma attack or allergic reaction. Other parts of the year, especially the winter months in pollution prone cities, can be equally bad (5).
A quality face mask can reduce the amount of pollen, dust, and other particles you breathe in. When worn properly and consistently it can reduce the effects of pollen season and other trying times for those with allergies and asthma.
People who live in high wildfire risk areas – The last few years have been some of the worst on record for wildfire damage. In California alone, it’s estimated that nearly two million acres of land were destroyed in 2018. It wasn’t just wildlands and forests that were destroyed though. thousands and thousands of people were forced to evacuate, some of them fleeing right through the smoke and ash of the fires themselves (6).
For preppers in fire-prone areas, a quality face mask is one of the most important pieces of gear to put into your bug out bag. Just being near a major wildfire can have a significant negative impact on health from the smoke and ash cloud. A good mask can significantly reduce the amount you breathe in and protect your whole family from smoke inhalation (7).
People with compromised immune systems – The number of immunocompromised American’s is rising year over year (8). These are everyday folk dealing with things like cancer, diabetes, HIV, and genetic conditions. Bacteria and viruses that would leave you or me feeling under the weather for a few days can seriously sicken or even kill immunocompromised people.
If a member of your family has a compromised immune system adding effective face masks to your preps is essential. They help block bacteria, viruses, and other nasty diseases that can be a significant danger to them.
People living in deserts – This one seems a little weird but bear with us. Many people living out in desert conditions have to contend with blowing dust and sand on a regular basis.
When you add in the occasional dust storm you end up with a recipe for inhaling dust and other debris. One great way to see this in action is at the annual Burning Man event.
Young, healthy participants were coming down with serious respiratory ailments. Turns out the fine dust particles on the playa Burning Man takes place on are really, really bad to breathe (9).
A basic face mask works wonders for keeping all that dust and sand from entering your sinuses or lungs.
High-intensity athletes – Physical fitness is one of the most important ways you can prepare for a disaster. To stay fit though, you need to exercise consistently and at a high level.
Cyclists, joggers, marathoners, and others participating in high-intensity aerobic activities are one of the most at-risk groups from impure air. When your body is heavily exerted you breathe in far more air than when resting. We’re talking 100 liters of air a minute vs just 12 liters of air when inactive (10).
That means your body is taking in nearly 10X the pollutants, pollen, and other potentially nasty things in the air. A high-quality face mask can reduce these contaminants by as much as 99% (11).
Global Travelers – If you find yourself traveling abroad for work, school, or a vacation you’ll probably notice a different ‘taste’ to the air. Unfortunately, all too often what you’re smelling in the air is increased pollution and potentially dangerous air contaminants.
Many nations around the world have much less stringent air quality protections in place than the US. This is especially true in parts of Asia and the Middle East (12). A good face mask helps protect you from these potentially dangerous chemicals and pollutants.
Gardeners, landscapers, and other outdoor workers – Anyone who’s ever done serious landscaping or worked on a road crew can tell you about the dangers of inhaling dust and debris. Study after study has shown that those with occupational exposure to dust and other inhalable waste products experience noticeably higher rates of respiratory issues down the road (13).
It’s not just dust either, exhaust fumes, road debris, grass clippings, and other small particles can all find their way into your lungs if you aren’t careful. Consistently wearing a face mask while working is the best way to protect yourself from respiratory damage as you age.
How we ranked
While putting together our list of best face masks we considered several key factors. These were intended use, comfort and fit, performance, durability, breathability, and storage.
Intended use – There are a lot of different masks, respirators, and other products that fall under the category of face masks. The best face mask for surviving a wildfire is going to be significantly different from the best one for surviving a pandemic.
If you’re looking for pollution protection or a mask to keep your family healthy in case of a dust storm, you’re going to want something reusable and durable. Think of a fabric mask with a PM2.5 rating. This ensures it will protect you from those dangerous PM10 and PM 2.5 particles we mentioned.
Protecting yourself from an infectious disease requires something different. You need effective particulate protection plus disposable design. Masks to protect against viruses and bacteria only work if they’re properly worn and used.
You need to follow the correct procedure of single-use and disposable to keep from accidentally carrying a pathogen on your mask. For this purpose, N95 and N99 disposable respirators are the way to go.
Fit and comfort – For any kind of breathing mask fit and comfort are critical. You need a solid airtight seal against your face to properly protect you against irritants and particles. You should always fit test your face mask before you rely on it for protection (14).
Comfort is just as important as fit. If a mask is uncomfortable it reduces the likelihood that you’ll wear it. Face masks only work if they’re worn consistently in potentially hazardous situations. If you’ve got a mask that rubs you the wrong way you’re a lot more likely to just tough it out than you are to wear it during a moderately hazardous scenario.
Performance – The performance level for a face mask definitely depends on its intended use. Dust and pollution masks aren’t as capable as full-scale respirators, N95 masks, or N99 masks. This isn’t a problem though, as the particles they’re designed to stop are a lot larger.
Because of this, we looked at a sliding scale of performance based on the threat a specific mask is rated to protect against. If a dust or pollen mask excels at its intended role it may be ranked higher than a much more protective mask that’s designed to work against a different threat.
Durability – Durability really comes down to working lifespan and usability. Cloth and polymer masks last a lot longer than disposable paper filter masks do. That being said, a cloth mask can’t protect you against the same things that a disposable N95 mask can.
For masks intended to be worn multiple times, we liked to see at least a three-month working lifespan. This varies a bit depending on what your air quality conditions are and any extreme circumstances you use your face mask under.
Breathability- Different types of face masks affect airflow in different ways. How easy it is to breathe in and out affects comfort and usability. For dust masks, we like to see an exhalation valve or two. These work by allowing your exhales to exit the mask without having to push it through the filter material again.
This serves the dual purpose of improving breathing efficiency and reducing the heat and moisture that builds up inside the mask. The valve prevents any air from entering once you switch to an inhale as well.
For masks being used to prevent infection, we don’t recommend an exhalation valve. It doesn’t impact its ability to protect you, but it does allow you to spread an infection if you’re sick. The exhalation valve does nothing to filter your exhalations after all.
Storage – For face masks, we looked at how easy it was to store a sufficient reserve of masks and how long their shelf life was. For disposable masks, shelf life comes down to the elastic in the straps (15). The mask itself will work fine, but it may be harder to get a good seal.
Reusable masks and especially respirators are bulkier than disposables but also have a much longer working life. Storage space is mainly for spare filters. The bulk of respirator filters have a sealed storage life of five years from manufacture (16).
Brands we trust – 3M is a good choice for just about any face mask or respirator product. They’re one of the most respected names in the PPE field, with a well-deserved reputation for quality control and excellent products. Vogmask is another face mask maker we trust. They’re newer to the field, but offer a wide range of high-quality dust and pollution masks.
Things to avoid – For face masks there aren’t any brands we would specifically recommend you avoid. There are unfortunately way too many companies out there that produce poorly made copycats or even outright counterfeit products. We recommend you purchase all face masks from reputable sources. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
We took each of these factors into account and used them to create a metric when choosing products. Any of the masks on our list will serve you well for their intended use.
Face masks protect you and your family from a wide range of threats – There’s a different kind of face mask available for just about any threat environment you find yourself in. They start off with basic fabric masks for use during pollen and allergy season and go all the way up to highly protective chemical and biological respirators.
Depending on where you live and what kind of threats you’re likely to face you can find a quality mask that will see you through it.
Face masks can be used during both your day to day life and a survival situation – What’s great about face masks is how useful they can be during your day to day life. A lot of survival gear is bought with the hope that you never have to use it. Face masks can help you stay healthy while cutting grass, working out, or just going about your average day.
We mentioned above that air pollution is on the rise. Just about everyone can benefit from a pollution mask during days where air quality is low. It’s estimated that as many as three million unnecessary deaths are caused by poor air quality every year (17). Consistently wearing a comfortable face mask can help protect your lungs for the long term.
Face masks are inexpensive and easy to store – Disposable face masks usually cost well under a dollar apiece. Even high-quality reusable masks rarely break $50, and that for masks that provide you with months of effective protection. Considering how much value a face mask can provide it’s easy to see why this small expense is worth it (18).
Even better from a preparedness standpoint, face masks take up very little space. Small fabric and N95 style masks can be stored by the hundred in a small box, while reusable masks and high-quality respirators only take up a bit more. The filters used in respirators and some reusable masks take up even less space than the disposable masks.
Face masks help ensure long-term respiratory health – When worn properly, face masks can protect your mucous membranes and lungs from lots of potential threats. Dangerous particles from pollution, smoke, and local exhaust can all penetrate deep into your lungs. They cause both acute symptoms like shortness of breath and potential long term damage like emphysema and bronchitis.
Just one exposure to the thick and noxious smoke that comes from a large-scale wildfire can do permanent damage to your lungs. Keeping a stock of face masks on hand ensures that you and your family are prepared should the worst happen (19).
Q: Do face masks work on the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
A: Not all face masks provide protection against viruses, including the Coronavirus. N95 and N99 masks can provide limited protection, but non-respirator face masks do not. They can, however, help prevent an infected person from spreading disease through coughing or sneezing.
Q: Do face masks stop pollution?
A: If you’re concerned about pollution you want to make sure you choose a mask marked with a PM2.5 label. This indicates that the mask will block the dangerous 2.5-micron particles that can settle in the lungs and cause long term damage.
Q: How do you wear a face mask?
A: To properly wear a face mask you need to have a tight seal around your nose and mouth. Start by pulling it comfortably tight against your face with the ear loops or neck strap. Blow out. You shouldn’t feel any air coming out of the sides, top, or bottom of your mask when exhaling.
Q: Where can you buy face masks?
A: Face masks are widely available for purchase. Medical supply stores, pharmacies, and your local grocery store usually have surgical style masks. N95 masks and other respirators are found at paint stores, hardware stores, and major retailers like Lowes or Home Depot. As with anything, there’s a good chance you can find them on Amazon and other online retailers.
Q: Should I wear a face mask while exercising outdoors?
A: It depends. Check your local air quality conditions to find out how much pollen, pollution, and other potentially dangerous particles are in the air (20). If you can handle wearing one every time it’s not a bad idea. You should definitely wear a face mask if conditions are at USG (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups) or above.
Q: Can I wear a face mask with a beard?
A: Sadly face masks pretty much don’t work with beards and other facial hair. They function by creating a near airtight seal with your face. Beards interfere with that seal and allow air to follow the path of least resistance to your lungs. If you still want to keep some facial hair we recommend you stick with a mustache.
Face masks are a critical tool that should be included in every serious prepper’s planning. They protect you from a wide variety of everyday and emergency threats and have long shelf lives.
Depending on your local threat environment you may benefit from a simple dust mask or require something with more comprehensive protection and a longer lifespan.
For Survival At Home’s #1 Face Mask recommendation, click here.
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