Why Use Face Mask Filters?

With the current lockdowns taking place and the introduction of extra safety measures, face masks are becoming the new normal. Cloth face masks are now becoming more popular than surgical masks.  They provide a reusable and more cost-efficient option than the disposable surgical masks, and many come with a filter pocket! But you might be wondering, why use face mask filters?

A face mask filter can improve the level of protection of a cloth mask. A good face mask will catch sneeze droplets and large particles, but a face mask filter can prevent smaller aerosol particles from making it through the mask. Using a filter in your cloth mask significantly reduces the number of virus particles that you’re exposed to.

Want to know more about how face mask filters work, and whether they really do make a difference?  Read on!

In this article, we’ll answer those questions, and provide tips on the best face mask filters to use, and how often to change them.

Are mask filters necessary?

A face mask filter for a cloth mask is not necessary but does provide extra protection compared to a cloth mask on its own. 

Wearing a mask significantly reduces the spread of viruses, so it’s our best chance of lowering the rate of transmission for COVID if you must leave the house.  While N95 masks offer the most protection, a cloth mask is often a great choice for general community use.

While a cloth mask does stop some particles on its own, surgical and cloth masks do more to contain any potential virus to the wearer, preventing them from unintentionally spreading it to others.  Cloth mask filters are designed to increase the filtration ability to protect the wearer from more particles they might otherwise breathe in.

Are mask filters effective

A face mask on its own will protect others from you; a filter will protect you from others.

Masks can stop large droplets, but a filter will prevent you from breathing in the smaller, aerosol-sized particles that can carry the virus.  If your cloth mask is made of a loose weave or thin fabric, then you’ll definitely want to use a filter as well.

It might be easier to think of it like this:

A shark net at the beach stops the sharks and larger sea life from getting in, but smaller fish can still swim through freely.  If you wanted to stop the smaller fish, you’d have to use a more finely woven net that they couldn’t fit through.  Your cloth mask on its own is the shark net, stopping large droplets that carry the virus (such as a sneeze).  To prevent the smaller particles of the virus itself, you’ll need to use the finer net: a face mask filter.

How often should I change my face mask filter?

The more you use your filter, the more particles it catches, and the less effective it becomes.  That’s why you must replace the filters regularly with new ones.

How often you should change your filter depends on what you’re using, and how long you use it.  PM2.5 filters are rated to last for up to 3 days before they need to be changed.  If you’re only running a couple of short errands though, you can use the same filter for up to a week.  No long-term testing has been performed for your DIY filter materials yet, so it’s best to swap them out after every use.

While you can wash the fabric face masks and reuse them, you’ll need to put the filters straight into the bin.  If you’re using cloth filters (such as the denim or bedsheets) and really want to reuse them, you’ll need to take extra care in cleaning them.  Wash them with detergent in hot water and spin them on a hot cycle in the dryer to kill any remaining virus particles. 

Does a face mask without a filter do anything?

While cloth masks are not as effective at filtering out particles, you can improve their level of protection by using replaceable filters.  A good face mask will catch sneeze droplets and large particles, but a filter can prevent smaller virus particles from making it through the mask.

A face mask without a filter is still better than no protection.  Even without a filter, a mask offers far better protection when exposed to someone’s cough or sneeze than if it was to come in direct contact with your face.

It also works to protect others from you, even if you don’t feel sick.  Not everyone who gets COVID shows symptoms; it’s possible to catch the virus, and unknowingly spread it to someone who then requires hospitalisation.  Everyone wearing a mask dramatically reduces this risk.

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