Finding correct and simple information about mouth masks is not easy. Which type of mask should I buy? What exactly do they protect against? Is a homemade mask enough? Are there any risks associated with using a mask? We want to give a clear answer to these questions here in this blog.

Today we are talking about the mask that wears most names; the comfort mask, the artisanal mask, the DIY mask, the community mask, … But what do those names stand for?

The list of names as it appears in the clear overview of the European Safety Federation is even longer. “Citizen mask”, “hygiene mask”, or “everyday mask” are even included. Under these many flags is an even broader load, if possible.

What these masks have in common is that they do not have to comply with regulations on personal protective equipment and medical devices. Those who download a pattern and start stitching themselves will make such an “everyday mask”. But companies also produce these kinds of masks. The difference with the home-made masks is that those companies will use fabrics where they have control over the filtration properties and air permeability.

Both are important properties for a piece of fabric that you need to tie in front of your mouth for a few hours in some cases. The filtration properties of a fabric indicate how much and what size of particles it can hold. In the case of a virus that hitches a ride on all kinds of particles, this is an important factor. A high filtration capacity means that more particles are stopped. In Belgium, for example, the term “community mask” is reserved for masks made in series and from materials that have proven their specific function – such as filtration – by scientific testing.

Finding balance

The air permeability indicates how comfortable the mask is to breathe through. The more air the fabric lets through, the more comfortable the feeling will be when you breathe in. However, there must be a balance between air permeability and filtration. The more filtration, the less air permeable, and vice versa. Also keep in mind that wearing a mask will give you the feeling that you are getting less air. That’s not a reason to worry, it’s a sign that the mask is working.

The question everyone asks is, of course, whether such a mask also offers sufficient protection. As discussed in our first blog post, masks are of use to the population only if everyone wears them. Wearing a mask primarily protects others. Especially in situations where social distance cannot be guaranteed or where people spend longer with other people in an enclosed space. Wearing a mask by itself is never enough. It should always go hand in hand with respect for social distance and regular hand washing.

We will discuss the other types of masks that exist, in particular the respiratory and surgical masks, in a next post.