It’s almost impossible to watch or read the news and not be slightly confused when it comes to face coverings and masks. As it currently stands, the CDC recommends that when out in public, you have some sort of covering over your nose and mouth to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Yet, not all coverings provide the same quality of protection. Let’s look specifically at the differences between a homemade cloth face mask and a high-grade N95 mask.
So that we are all on the same page, when we talk about cloth masks we are referring to ones that are stitched, have several layers of material, and are fitted to the person’s face quite well. Other cloth coverings, such as bandanas or scarves will only provide minimal defense against particle transfers.
Benefits of Cloth Face Masks
Due to the shortages across the nation of almost every kind of mask, many people have pulled out old T-shirts and leftover material to create their own cloth masks. This has allowed individuals a way to economically produce something that offers some level of protection when out with other people.
Other dedicated individuals have made several masks, which has allowed everyone in their family to have more than one to wear when out and about. Having more than one face covering is important because anytime your mask is exposed to foreign elements it should be treated as contaminated. Cleaning cloth masks regularly is a requirement. This is along the same lines as our healthcare professionals who discard their masks after each patient they visit.
A beneficial feature about having several cloth masks, especially if you have face-to-face interaction as an essential worker, is they are easily to launder and sanitize for the next use. Washing and reusing helps save the environment by not producing extra waste and because the masks are so small, they are not going to increase the amount of laundry you do on a regular basis.
Drawbacks of Cloth Face Masks
Because there is significant variance between materials, sewing techniques, patterns and even face shape, it is impossible to precisely define the effectiveness of cloth face masks. Several initial studies have contradicting results ranging from showing no difference between a cloth mask and no mask, while others show measurable differences, especially when examining small and large droplets of saliva that can be exchanged in normal conversation.
Many of us aren’t the best seamstresses and tailors, even after several semi-successful attempts at sewing our own masks. Consequently, having meaningful coverage isn’t always achievable. The spacing, particularly at the cheeks and chin, may not be filtering the air that you’re breathing in and out, which is one of the main purposes of wearing a mask.
Benefits of N95 Masks
An N95 mask or respirator is significantly different in the protection level it can provide when worn properly. Most information about the effectiveness of these masks comes from healthcare professionals and years of efficacy testing. Medscape cited a study that has shown as much as a 75% efficacy rate of protection over that of surgical masks when treating respiratory illnesses and flu cases.
For those using disposable N95 masks, the convenience of being able to discard the mask quickly and easily, especially when treating or being around individuals with confirmed cases of infection, provides an extra layer of security. This is why many medical service workers utilize them in their daily interactions.
Others that opt for reusable N95 will see the advantages of protection that this more robust type of mask provides, but also can be more environmentally conscious for the fact that only the filters need to be replaced.
Drawbacks of N95 Masks
Because of the desirability that comes with a higher level of defense especially against airborne illnesses, N95 masks can be more difficult to find and purchase at times of crisis. We do want to make sure that doctors and nurses have them, but we also need to make sure that people who have underlying health issues also can have access to these, too.
The costs associated with N95 masks are going to be greater. Having a substantial number of disposable masks may be cost-prohibitive for some people. That is why some people choose the reusable masks with disposable filters, but the base part of the mask can still be a bit pricey in some cases if you are wanting more than one.
Making a Choice
What may be right for one person may not be for someone else. There are different needs and factors that each person must look at, plus situations in your life may change and thus a different type of mask could be required for that switch up. Remain aware of the options available and you can better make an informed decision to match your lifestyle.