Your Ultimate Guide to Face Masks – Types, How to Care, & When to Replace

By the end of 2019, a novel coronavirus had paved its way into China. Soon, it spread throughout the world, resulting in a global lockdown. 

Though some may experience a mild illness, others tend to experience pneumonia, difficulty breathing, and sometimes respiratory failure after contracting the virus. Older adults are at the highest risk of developing a severe illness. 

So, is there a way to prevent the disease? Well, as there isn’t a vaccine to keep the infection away, we are heavily dependent on face masks to keep a hold on our dear lives. 

It is almost the end of 2020, and we know that it is practically impossible to leave our homes without having a mask. It is the most effective way of reducing the COVID-19 transmission that’s available to us. Recent studies have shown that masks are capable of keeping the transmission in check by 70%. 

As a result, you will find people everywhere, investing in masks that are trendy and fashionable.

But do all masks offer the same amount of efficiency? Let’s take a closer look at them. 

Primary Types of Face Masks 

When it comes to COVID-19 prevention, there are three main types you should consider – 

  • Cloth Face Mask 
  • Surgical Mask 
  • N95 Mask

Cloth Face Masks – 

The Centres for Disease and Prevention (CDC) recommend people without symptoms to wear cloth face masks to prevent virus transmission. In addition to wearing a mask, people should also maintain a 6-foot distance from people. 

As these masks are made of cloth, you can find several creative options in the market to suit your style. It can help in lowering the transmission through sneezing, coughing, and speaking. 

However, these masks aren’t as effective as surgical or N95 masks. Because of this reason, it is paramount to maintain proper physical distancing and hygiene practices to keep yourself safe during the pandemic. 

Surgical Masks – 

Surgical masks are loose-fitting, disposable face masks that cover the chin, mouth, and nose. They are typically useful in – 

  • Protecting the wearer from splashes, sprays, and large-particle droplets
  • Preventing the transmission of infectious respiratory secretions to others 

You can find different designs in surgical masks, but they often tend to be rectangular and flat in shape with a few folds or pleats. There will be a metal strip that’s placed near the nose. 

N95 Masks – 

N95 masks are considered to be much more tight-fitting as compared to the other two options. Apart from sprays and large droplets, these masks also filter out very small particles, including bacteria and viruses. 

These masks are found in oval or circular shapes are designed to offer a tight seal around the face. Elastic bands ensure that the mask holds firmly to the face. 

Certain types also contain an attachment named exhalation valve, which helps in breathing and excess build-up of humidity and heat. 

These masks aren’t usually one-size-fits-all. It needs to be fit-tested in order to form a proper facial seal. Without an effective seal, you cannot expect proper protection. 

How to Clean and Store the Face Masks?

Since it is mandatory for everybody to wear masks in public, it is essential to learn how to take care of them appropriately. Masks won’t be as effective if the quality of the fabric is inferior. When worn regularly to cover the nose and face, the quality is bound to deteriorate. Hard washing with chemicals can often accelerate the process. 

If your mask is made of reusable cloth, make sure you soak it in hot water and disinfecting solution and allow it to air dry. After washing them, you should also store the face masks appropriately, especially those with an attached nose clip. If loose gaps are present, it can easily allow germs to crawl inside the next time you plan on wearing them. 

Some experts also recommend using a sanitizer on the surface before wearing it again. However, it is important to be wary about using chemicals, as it will ultimately land on the face. Besides, having more than one reusable face masks to help you rotate through the masks. 

When to Replace Old Face Masks?

Even after caring for and storing your masks effectively, there will come a time when you have to throw them away. While it may not be completely possible to figure out a timeline, some of the factors that indicate a replacement would be – 

  • The number of washes 
  • The number of times the mask has been used 
  • The condition of the fabric 

For instance, for a person who travels more frequently and has their face exposed to the virus, the time of replacement will differ from a person who doesn’t step outside the house often. 

An excellent way to measure when to replace a mask ideally would be to get a new mask every change of a season. With air pollution at its peak, having a spoiled mask will only make it difficult for you to maintain adequate protection against germs and pollutants.   

If you still aren’t sure about when you should dispose of your face mask, here are a few indicators that will let you know when it is time – 

  • When your mask doesn’t fit your face right, and you keep readjusting it to cover your face fully. 
  • When the band of your mask appears loose or keeps falling off frequently. 
  • When the fabric seems thin, light, or porous after repeated washes. 
  • When you observe rips or holes on the mask. 
  • When the mask feels uncomfortable on your face. 

Closing Thoughts 

When it comes to any flu, prevention is the best method of keeping yourself and everybody else safe. At the time of a pandemic, a face mask acts as a protection layer from getting sick. Other effective ways of preventing the spread of COVID-19 include – 

  • Practicing social distancing 
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Being conscious of touching your face

While masks have an important role to play in reducing virus transmission, it should be implemented along with other preventive measures for maximum protection. 

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