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How to tell if a mask will protect against viruses (inc. Covid-19)

February 2022

This article is specifically aimed at helping people who need a mask that will legitimately offer respiratory protection from viruses, including Covid-19.

Consider these tips a baseline of knowledge that will help you to ask the right questions of any mask. As with anything in life, critical thinking combined with knowing when to ask the right questions can save you a lot of hassle.

As a manufacturer of masks, you could expect us to be biased, which to a certain extent is true – we love our products. However, we have also spent nearly a decade knee-deep in developing virus blocking masks and have a great deal of inside experience and information about the technologies, certifications, and real-world performance of what’s out there.

Consider this a conversation between friends over a cup of tea:  you say “Hey, how do I tell if a mask will stop Covid?” and we say…

Here’s a Few Tips

If a mask doesn’t have sufficient filtration, then it is unlikely to protect you regardless of other qualities it may have. Viral particulates are among the smallest airborne threats and tend to travel in water, which can make them more difficult to block than other particulates.

  • Look for FFP2 or FFP3 certification as a mandatory requirement when choosing a mask. This certification means that the mask has at least been independently proven to meet professional standards as a protective item. Available test reports and certification should be clearly listed with the product and the FFP rating will be clearly printed on the mask itself.
  • Look specifically for a statement saying the mask will FILTER or BLOCK viruses. This should be confidently displayed near the top of any information.
  • If available, an independent test report proving filtration efficiency specifically against viruses would be ideal. This is called a Viral Filtration Efficiency (VFE) test. Not all manufacturers take the time to test their masks against viruses though so don’t expect to see these everywhere. A test report against bacteria (BFE) is not the same as bacteria tend to be many times larger than viruses.
  • Any unfiltered fabric mask with a seam in the front centre is essentially inviting a viral particulate into your mouth.
  • Avoid buying PPE from online marketplaces, it may be difficult to tell if it's genuine.
  • If possible, avoid masks with valves as these do not filter your breaths out and could mean you are a risk to others.

Antimicrobial Mask Materials

A key point to reiterate here is that if a mask doesn’t have a sufficient filter with at least FFP2 certification, then it doesn’t matter what materials it’s made out of.

  • Some fabric masks make claims such as “treated with antimicrobial technology”. Unfortunately, this “protection” can limited at best - often meaning that the mask will slowly break down microbes, long after you've already been exposed. For comparison: RESPILON VK masks block viruses and neutralise them within minutes – this is the benchmark you are looking for.
  • If a mask has additives that claim to break down viruses or bacteria, check for independent reports proving that the additives are safe. For example, our VK range of anti-viral masks have independent test reports proving nothing is released from the mask during use and that repeated exposure will not develop any kind of skin reaction.

RESPILON anti-viral VK masks use an accelerated copper technology developed by a team of international scientists to destroy all viruses and bacteria. It's based on a military technology that's been in use for over a decade. We could have used silver or zinc in our anti-viral masks, but we didn’t. Here’s why:

  • Silver is not known to be particularly effective against viruses in its normal state. Silver can be effective against viruses when produced in a nano size, but due to its toxicity it can run into severe environmental and regulatory issues. Additionally, silver oxidizes in a few minutes of exposure to humidity (such as warm breath), when this happens its effect against viruses is greatly limited. For comparison: The accelerated copper RESPILON use in antiviral masks is highly effective against bacteria, viruses and fungi, even if oxidised.
  • Zinc is poor against bacteria but is effective against most cold viruses including Covid, but you would need a very large amount of zinc in order for it to be effective.

Do Surgical Masks Offer Respiratory Protection?

No, they don’t. Technically, surgical masks (Type 1, Type 2 and Type IIR) are classed as PPE. However, this is a little misleading to the general public, as surgical masks do not offer respiratory protection. Surgical masks are intended to limit the spread of large droplets expelled by the mask wearer. They do not offer the wearer or others around them protection from inhaling a virus.

Fit is Important

If your mask doesn’t fit well, it won’t properly protect you. The mask should fit around your face without gaps or air escaping through the sides or around the nose as you breathe. The nose section should have a wire fitting that allows you to create a good seal. If you have facial hair, a totally secure fit can be difficult to achieve with any mask.

When choosing a mask, consider the shape as well as the size:

Moisture in Face Masks

Moisture wipes out filtration in most masks (except ours). If the inside of your mask is moist and it's not a RESPILON mask, the filtration will probably start to dip and can be reduced by up to 60%. If safe to do so, letting it dry out might help, although it's currently unclear as to whether the filtration will return as it's based on the static charge within the filter. Note: this does not apply to our masks, if you want to know more about that, check out this article: PPE Masks: Common Meltblown Filters VS RESPILON Nano Filters

Finally, it’s important to understand that nothing guarantees protection. Following your own common sense and the recommendations of scientists and medical professionals (maybe not politicians) is an important part of lowering risk.

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