How to Choose the Right Anti-Pollution Mask

Air pollutants are emitted by a number of sources – humans as well as natural. These emissions are a concoction of dust, chemicals, fine particulate matter (PM) and secondary pollutants such as ground-level ozone. Of these, fine particulate matter – PM 10 and PM 2.5 – primarily produced during fuel combustion, are associated with a number of acute and chronic illnesses of the respiratory, cardiovascular and immune systems. A Global Health Observatory (GHO) report estimates that 25% of the lung cancer deaths, 8% of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) deaths, and about 15% of ischaemic heart disease and stroke are caused by PM 10 and PM 2.5.

Controlling emissions may not be entirely in our hands. However our response is. The first step being protecting our own lungs against PM 2.5 with the use of anti-pollution masks. There are a number of anti-pollution masks available in the market. Here are steps that will help you choose the right mask for you and your family.

Anti-Pollution Mask Specifications

For most non-oil-based fine particulate matter, N-95 and N-99 masks are the best options. Masks with N-95 rating can filter up to 95% of PM 2.5 and masks with N-99 rating can filter up to 99% of PM 2.5. For areas with very high levels of PM 2.5 concentration, and N-100 mask, that works with 99.97% efficiency may be advisable.

If you reside in a city/area with high oil-based PM 2.5 concentration, for instance near an industrial area, N- masks will not work. You will have to go for a P-95 or its counterpart for industrial use – R-95, both of which can filter out oil and oil-based pollutants. These are more expensive than their N- counterparts and have to be frequently replaced (normally after 40 hours).

Anti-Pollution Mask Usage

Masks are available in both disposable and reusable varieties. Vogmask and Cambridge masks can be used repeatedly and cleaned with a wet cloth. Single use masks, such as those by 3M and Honeywell must be replaced after a single use.

It is important to note that the surgical masks sold at many chemist outlets - even those that include carbon filters - do not work for PM 10 and PM 2.5.

Masks designed for extended use must be cleaned and stored properly when not in use. Masks can themselves become infected with pathogens, especially after wiping with a moist cloth, if not cleaned and aired properly. Improper storage might lead to breakage of the nose clip or may cause growth of bacteria and fungi, while the elastic bands that secure the mask may lose their elasticity with extended use, causing an improper face-mask seal.

Fitting and Ventilation of Anti-Pollution Masks

In addition to the right mask type, selecting the right size is crucial. The mask should fit tightly on your face, leaving no gaps at the sides from where particulate matter may penetrate through your mask. Remember these pollutants are 50 times thinner than your hair! Cambridge and Vogmask offer N- masks in multiple sizes, so you can choose one that fits you correctly. Look for one that fits over the ears rather than the head.

Ventilation of Anti-Pollution Masks

Ventilation is equally important, especially if you are using the mask while exercising. A good mask will not allow moisture and fogging near the nose-bridge and eyes. Additionally, look for one that has a CO2 outlet, such as SmartAir and Cambridge. As one breathes, CO2 gets accumulated in the mask. Its important to have a CO2 outlet to allow that CO2 to leave the mask.

If you are using the mask while exercising, then the CO2 outlet becomes even more important and you may want to explore masks with double CO2 outlets. CO2 outlets are built in a way that they close when you breathe in and open when you breathe out. For general use single CO2 vent is sufficient. We would, however, recommend that you buy masks with at least one CO2 vent.

At Airveda, our team uses Cambridge masks because,

  • They provide a good face-fit - the strap has longer lasting elasticity, and the metal strip on the nose is sturdy and doesn't break easily.
  • It offers a strap that lets you tighten it around your face even if the mask is slightly bigger. This comes in especially handy for small children.
  • It meets the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) standard for filtration.

About the author

Airveda team is a group of people helping everyone breathe well and live well.