Masks I've Bought and Liked
A semi-comprehensive list
I am not an expert on PPE. I can’t make any promises about the effectiveness of these masks. But this is an exhaustive list of the masks that my family and I use every day. I bought a lot of masks to get to this point, so I may as well pass the knowledge on. Note: in my opinion, you need a whole wardrobe of masks to be able to wear them consistently. Different masks work for different situations. And that’s separate from the fact that different people need different masks because they find different things comfortable. So, this is going to be a long list. Be prepared.
Overall, I don’t worry about whether a mask is NIOSH-certified, or if it’s a KN95 or an N95 or some other number. I don’t worry about whether it’s “fake,” because even non-certified masks do a good job of protecting you as long as they’re made of the right stuff.
What matters to me is that it’s 1) made of nonwoven material (usually polypyrene), through a process called melt blow extrusion and 2) fits tightly enough to the face that no air gets in or out. You can check the fit by cupping your hands around the mask and exhaling hard. It fits properly if you don’t feel any air blowing out around the edges. (there is a good fit test video and instructions here.)
These black KN95s are everyday masks for me and my mom and sometimes my husband. I buy whichever ones are on sale. I also bought myself some purple ones when I want to jazz things up.
My younger son wears this blue kid-size mask. I don’t know what M95C represents, but the masks are made in the US from five layers of nonwoven meltblown polypyrene fabric and it has a nosepiece. These masks have seen him through at least one close COVID exposure with no infection. When they start getting grubby little face prints as shown, we throw them out.
These strapless N95 masks stick right to your face. I love them for airplanes, but I do have caveats. They are single use, and they’re not cheap. So if you’re going to be taking it off to snack, it’s probably the wrong choice. And after 6-8 hours the adhesive starts to unstick and you need to put on a fresh mask. However, they make it easy to get a perfect fit and they work on any face that doesn’t have facial hair.
Speaking of facial hair, my husband has a full beard, so he wears these extra large KF94 masks when he’s going to meetings or other people-intensive experience. He buys them in black because it seems to make more sense with business attire. They provide a better seal than a KN95 over his beard.
My mom wears a dome-style respirator for her physical therapy, because it doesn’t cling to her face when she’s breathing heavily during exercise.
I have pitiful delicate ears, so I use these ear saver things to make my masks go around my head instead of relying ear loops. It puts pressure on my nose, but my nose is made of stouter stuff than my ears so the discomfort doesn’t bother me. It also means my masks tend to slip down, so I have to be diligent in thinking about fit and adjustment is needed throughout the day.
We wear our masks multiple times. Until they are visibly dirty, pilling, or have a smell that doesn’t go away.
Advice on masks cleaning varies widely except for one thing - you cannot wash a mask in soap and water because it will eliminate the electrostatic charge that makes their filtering work. I invented my own protocol based on research and my best guesses. Between wearings, we mist them lightly on both sides with this hypochlorous acid and then sit them on a sunny windowsill. That’s what the black mask pictured above is doing.
Masks I bought and didn’t like:
These old-school cup respirators meet every safety standard but they’re both ugly and uncomfortable. We gave them away to a friend who thought they had a certain steampunk cool.
I tried these purple KF94 masks but I felt like they made my head look weird and I am vain.
I bought my mom these teal N95s because I thought she’d like the color. She did like the color but found them way too tight around her head.
FYI - the amazon links above are affiliate links, which means I get about a nickel if you shop through them. The non-amazon links are not affiliate links, so I don’t profit. In my entire 15-year writing for the web career I think I’ve made two hundred bucks from affiliate links, so the cash isn’t really clouding my judgement.