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Here's the Best and Worst Face Mask, Experts Say

Your face mask may not be as effective as you think.

On Friday, a group of researchers from Duke University published a study revealing the least and most effective face coverings, using a unique testing method involving a laser beam and cell phone that measured the "the efficacy of masks to reduce the transmission of respiratory droplets during regular speech," they explained. What they found is that some of the most popular face mask styles aren't as effective as you would think. In fact, one of them is even less effective in preventing the spread of the virus than wearing no mask at all.

Read on to see them ranked from worst to best, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.


The Worst: Fleece

Black fleece face buff

Researchers found that wearing a gaiter neck fleece—popular with runners—may be worse than no mask at all. They explained that speaking through these types of masks "seemed to disperse the largest droplets into a multitude of smaller droplets," resulting in an increase in droplet count. Considering that smaller particles are airborne longer than large droplets—meaning that larger droplets sink faster—"the use of such a mask might be counterproductive," they explain. 



Photo Credit: Emma Fischer, Duke University

Bandanas may look cool, but they aren't going to protect you from coronavirus. Researchers also found that a double-layer bandana was nearly just as ineffective as fleece, having many of the same issues in terms of droplet dispersal. 


Knitted Mask

Woman wearing knitted face mask

A knit mask may seem like a much more on-trend option than, say, a surgical mask, but according to researchers it is one of the worst options. 


A Mask They Describe as "Cotton 3"

2-layer cotton, pleated style mask
Emma Fischer, Duke University

Researchers define this mask as a "2-layer cotton, pleated style mask," and don't recommend it. 


A Mask They Call "Cotton 1"

1-layer cotton, pleated style mask
Emma Fischer, Duke University

A "1-layer cotton, pleated style mask" is surprisingly a better option than a 2-layer mask. 


Max AT

MaxAT face mask
Emma Fischer, Duke University

This "1-layer Maxima AT mask" may look slightly similar to surgical masks, but don't offer nearly as much protection, according to researchers. 


A Mask They Call "Cotton 4"

2-layer cotton, pleated style mask
Emma Fischer, Duke University

The Olson Mask Pattern, curved to fit the mouth and nose area, may have been designed by medical professionals to be used when other surgical masks are not available. However the 2-layer cotton mask wasn't the most effective out of the lot. 


Valved N95

Valved N95 face mask
Emma Fischer, Duke University

The N95 mask with exhalation valve is significantly less effective than the traditional N95. "The performance of the valved N95 mask is likely affected by the exhalation valve, which opens for strong outwards airflow," the researchers explained. "While the valve does not compromise the protection of the wearer, it can decrease protection of persons surrounding the wearer." In fact, the CDC recently warned against using any masks with exhalation valves or vents for this very reason. 


A Mask They Call "Cotton 2"

2-layer cotton, pleated style mask
Emma Fischer, Duke University

The popular 2-layer cotton, pleated style mask was one of the more effective masks. 


A Mask Dubbed "Cotton 5"

2-layer cotton, pleated style mask
Emma Fischer, Duke University

Very similar to the Cotton 2, this 2-layer cotton, pleated style mask was also found to be incredibly effective. 



Polypropylene Fabric

If you don't have a mask on hand, wearing a swath of mask material (polypropylene) is a great option. Researchers found that this was one of the most protective face coverings. 


Handmade Cotton/Poly Mask

Cotton-polypropylene-cotton mask
Emma Fischer, Duke University

Aside from masks worn by professionals, wearing a simple handmade cotton or polypropylene is the most protective option. Researchers claim that they "provided good coverage, eliminating a substantial amount of the spray from normal speech." 


Three-Layer Surgical Mask

Spare multiple disposable medical masks

A three layer surgical mask may not be stylish, but if you want to protect yourself and others from coronavirus, it is the second most effective option. 


N95 Without Valve

Medic, nurse with face mask and blue nitride gloves sharing a N95 mask.

The best mask for protection against coronavirus is unsurprisingly a fitted N95 with no exhalation valve. However, keep in mind that they are not recommended by the CDC, and are considered PPE—"critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders." So make a homemade mask, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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