Surgical Masks, Cloth Masks and Carbon Filters: What's The Most Effective?

Surgical Masks, Cloth Masks and Carbon Filters: What's The Most Effective?

By Chesiree Katter

Surgical Masks, Cloth Masks and Carbon Filters: What's The Most Effective?

Wearing a face covering when going out is now required in many states across the country, and people are coming up with new and inventive ways to cover their faces. 

The 3-ply, non-woven single-use face mask is a great form of PPE, but it’s just that: single-use. 

While this ensures that you’re always putting sanitary, clean material over your mouth and nose area, many people have been looking for more sustainable options like fabric masks made from cotton or other materials. 

Monster Aid published this blog post comparing cloth masks, surgical masks (the ones we sell!), and N95 masks. While surgical masks were tested to have approximately 30% air filtration, cloth bandana masks were only shown to filter at a rate of 1-2%. An excerpt from our blog:

“While these homemade solutions are technically better than nothing and may provide some protection against large respiratory droplets, they, unfortunately, do almost nothing in terms of air filtration (which is what will protect you from an aerosolized virus).”

Some people have looked into stacking masks - that is, wearing a surgical mask under a cloth mask. Our Public Health Educator, Sameerah Wahab, says that in theory, this could aid in filtration, as long as both masks are clean -- statistically, filtration would increase. 

As an added sanitation measure, those who sell cloth masks recommend boiling the fabric after each use to disinfect them. The latest in cloth face mask manufacturing is the use of carbon filters inserted into cloth masks. Do these carbon filters make a difference?

“Carbon filters are, in principle, used to filter pollutants, dust, and allergens. They are largely ineffective against viral particles,” Sameerah says. 

Sameerah added that there are no recent studies that show the effectiveness of carbon filters in repelling viruses. It’s not safe to assume that wearing a carbon filter is an effective way to stay safe. Relying on this form of protection without enough scientific research to back it up is risky at best.

In terms of cloth masks, Sameerah said that boiling fabric over and over can potentially ruin its integrity, much like rewashing our favorite t-shirt over and over. It’s something to take into account when wearing a fabric mask.

It can be tough to know what the best PPE to invest in is with all these options coming onto the scene, but taking the extra step to do your research can help you stay aware and have peace of mind. The best thing you can do right now is to stay true to what has been tested and proven to keep you safe and healthy. This means staying away from social gatherings, washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, and wearing a facial covering.