Many Americans have decided that wearing a face mask outside the home is a good idea. Some states have even mandated it. Whether you plan to wear a mask by choice or mandate, do not buy just anything. Settle for nothing less than a 3-layer surgical mask.

Not every face mask on the market can do the trick. In fact, masks not specifically designed for healthcare use are likely to be largely ineffective against viruses and bacteria. Even some medical masks are not effective against coronavirus.

The point here is to know what you are buying before you buy. Below are descriptions of some of the most common face masks currently on the market. Remember that the 3-layer surgical mask is your best bet.

The Dust Mask

A dust mask is generally made from cotton, a sponge material, or some sort of woven paper material. It is designed mainly to reduce the amount of dust or pollen inhaled by the user. The material these masks are made of is ineffective against bacteria and viruses. And because the masks are not form fitting, they often leave gaps through which pollutants can travel.

2-Layer Hygiene Masks

The 2-layer hygiene mask is generally made of some sort of fabric or non-woven paper material. Its second layer is not a melt-blown layer and, as such, likely ineffective against viruses and bacteria. The masks can filter out pollen, dust, and other allergens pretty effectively.

N95 Respirators

An N95 face mask is actually known in the healthcare industry as a respirator. It fits the face much more tightly to avoid problematic gaps. It is capable of filtering out 95% of most very small particles. N95s are believed to be highly effective against viruses and bacteria.

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As you may know, N95 respirators were in high demand at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. Government officials were asking citizens not to purchase them so as to maintain a high enough supply to serve healthcare workers. That says something.

3-Layer Surgical Mask

This brings us to the 3-layer surgical mask. Alsco, a nationally known provider of hospital uniforms and linens, explains that the 3-layer healthcare face mask is the most highly recommended mask if you do not have access to an N95. It has numerous properties that makes it superior to dust masks and 2-layer masks. Most important is the melt-blown layer. This is the second of the three layers.

The melt-blown layer is a fabric layer created using a specialized process that gives it its unique properties. This layer is rather absorbent so that when a user breathes or sneezes, the mask contains any droplets. Being that this layer is sandwiched between the other two, absorbed droplets are kept away from the user’s face.

The melt-blown layer is also electrostatic by nature. This is one of the characteristics that makes it highly absorbent. The layer acts as both a filter and a sponge, if you will. It creates a true barrier between your face and the outside world.

Protecting Others

One last thing to remember is this: while you may be protecting yourself against coronavirus exposure by wearing a 3-layer surgical mask, the primary objective is to protect others. You may have the coronavirus and be asymptomatic. The point of wearing a mask is to protect others from contamination while you are out and about.

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Some people have chosen not to wear masks in public. In states where consumers have that choice, some will decide to exercise it. That is their right. If you choose to wear a mask, make sure it is a 3-layer surgical mask.