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Wearing a mask is one way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. There are many types, including surgical masks, cloth masks, and respirators.

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All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that wearing masks helps reduce the spread of COVID-19. The organization also recommends physical distancing, avoiding areas with poor ventilation, and washing the hands thoroughly and regularly.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, usually transmits through respiratory droplets. When a person with the infection sneezes, coughs, speaks, sings, or breathes, for example, their respiratory droplets could pass the virus to others.

Research also shows that the virus can spread via aerosols, remaining present in the air for hours. This can rapidly spread the virus over large areas.

Masks help reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in two ways. They reduce the number of respiratory droplets in the air, and they limit how many droplets the mask wearer inhales.

However, not all masks are as effective as others. Respirators, such as N95 and KN95 masks, are more effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant, due to their multiple layers and tighter fit.

Cloth masks are the least effective form, as they are more likely to fit loosely and have few layers. Recently, some researchers have observed that cloth masks may not be appropriate methods of reducing the spread of COVID-19, as limited clinical evidence suggests that they are effective.

People should carefully consider how effective their masks are, especially during surges of more transmissible variants, such as Omicron.

Learn more about face masks for COVID-19 here.

Medical News Today has chosen products that meet these criteria, when possible:

  • Layers: The masks have at least two layers of material for extra protection.
  • Type: There is a selection of surgical and respirator masks.
  • Suitability: The masks are suitable for people of different ages, including children.

Below is a selection of face masks available to purchase online.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and was correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best for a surgical mask: Hygenix 3ply Disposable Face Masks

  • Amount: This is a pack of 50 masks.
  • Layers: Each mask has three layers of non-woven polypropylene.
  • Disposable or reusable: A person must dispose of their mask after each use.
  • Price: This product has a list price of $19.99.

The company states that the masks are fluid resistant and protect against up to 99% of particles. Each mask has elastic ear loops and an adjustable nose clip.

These masks have a shelf life of 2 years. A person needs to dispose of their mask after each use.

Best for breathability: 3M Particulate Respirator

  • Amount: This is a pack of 20 masks.
  • Layers: No information is available.
  • Disposable or reusable: A person must dispose of each mask after use.
  • Price: The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $23.05 per box.

This N95 respirator mask has approval from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The makers report 95% filtration efficiency against certain non-oil-based particles. They also say the mask’s electrostatic media may help ease breathing.

However, this product is not fluid resistant. A person wearing this mask should also wear a face shield to protect against SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

After each use, a person needs to dispose of their mask.

Best for a KN95 mask: Powecom KN95

  • Amount: This is a pack of 10 masks.
  • Layers: Each mask has multiple layers.
  • Disposable or reusable: A person needs to discard their mask when it becomes visibly dirty or when breathing is impeded.
  • Price: The price starts at $12.

The makers sell these masks in packs of various sizes. Each mask has a KN95 filter and an adjustable nose piece. The masks are made of non-woven, soft, breathable material, the company says. Latex-free ear loops and various headband styles are available.

When the mask becomes dirty or when breathing through it becomes difficult, a person needs to dispose of it.

Best for a KF94 mask: Kyungin Flax KF94

  • Amount: This is a pack of 20 masks.
  • Layers: Each mask has four layers.
  • Disposable or reusable: People must dispose of these masks when they become damaged or dirty.
  • Price: This product has a list price of around $29.

The company says that these masks have eco-friendly material that will not irritate the skin. Each mask has an adjustable nose clip, elastic ear loops, and a 3D structure to aid breathing.

When these masks become dirty or damaged, a person should dispose of them.

Best for a duck-billed mask: Kimberly Clark N95 Pouch Respirator

  • Amount: This is a pack of 50 masks.
  • Layers: No information is available.
  • Disposable or reusable: People must dispose of these masks if they become damaged.
  • Price: This product has a list price of around $58.

These duck-billed masks are NIOSH-approved and have a large breathing area.

There are also two comfort-fit headbands and an adjustable nosepiece. People should stop using these masks if they become damaged.

Best for a recyclable mask: Vida KF94

  • Amount: These masks come packs of different sizes, starting at 20 masks per pack.
  • Layers: Each mask has four layers.
  • Disposable or reusable: A person disposes of each mask after use.
  • Price: The price starts at $24.

This KF94 mask has four layers of non-woven fabric and elastic ear straps. It is available in three sizes, including two children’s sizes.

The company recommends disposing each mask after one day of use. People can then contact the company for a return label to recycle their masks.

Best for children: Wellbefore KN95 Kids Mask

  • Amount: Each order must include at least 10 masks.
  • Layers: Each mask has four layers.
  • Disposable or reusable: A person disposes of each mask after use.
  • Price: The price starts at $14.90.

These masks are suitable for children, starting at 2 years of age, and others with smaller faces. They are available in three sizes.

Each mask has four layers of non-woven fabric and adjustable ear loops and nose pieces. People must dispose of these masks after use.

Below is a table that compares the masks based on different factors.

BrandPriceTypeNumber of layersDisposable or reusable
Hygenix Disposable Face Masks$19.99surgical3 layersdisposable
3M Particulate Respirator$23.05N95no available informationdisposable
Powecom KN95$12KN954 layersdisposable
Kyungin Flax KF94list price of around $29KF944 layersdisposable
Kimberly Clark N95 Pouch Respiratorlist price of around $58N95no available informationdisposable
Vida KF94$24KF944 layersdisposable
Wellbefore KN95 Kids Mask$14.90KN954 layersdisposable

The WHO recommends masks that cover the nose, mouth, and chin with a firm seal.

Additionally, people may consider these factors:

  • Type: A person may prefer a surgical mask or a respirator.
  • Size of mask: Ensure that a mask has a firm seal around the nose, mouth, and chin.
  • Materials: People with allergies or sensitivities to certain materials, such as latex, should look for products that do not contain them.
  • Type of loop: A mask may have headband or ear loops. A person may find one or the other type more comfortable for extended use.
  • Job requirements: Some employers may require certain masks. For example, people in clinical settings may need masks that are fluid resistant.

Surgical face masks have received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, they do not provide reliable protection against smaller airborne particles. These masks are fluid resistant and disposable.

Cloth masks may be made of cotton or other materials. People can reuse and wash them. However, the CDC warns against using a cloth mask that leaves any gap around the face, has exhalation vents or openings, has only one layer of fabric. These masks do not provide adequate protection against particles.

A 2021 study investigated the efficacy of surgical masks, compared with reusable masks. The researchers found that surgical masks provide more reliable protection against SARS-CoV-2. For reusable masks, rates of protection varied greatly, depending on the structure.

Some factors that can change the effectiveness of reusable masks include the type of material, the number of layers, the seal around the face, and the fit of ear loops.

The researchers also concluded that respirators, such as N95s, are more effective than surgical masks. Surgical masks, in turn, are more effective than cloth masks.

These are all types of respirator masks. All three filter 94–95% of airborne particles. These masks tend to be more tight-fitting than surgical or cloth masks.

However, N95 masks are the only respirators that NIOSH has approved.

A 2020 study found that N95 and KF94 masks may be more effective than surgical masks at preventing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. The authors found that SARS-COV-2 particles were present inside and outside surgical masks, but only on the insides of the N95 and KF94 masks.

The CDC reports that, when worn correctly, respirator masks provide the most protection from viral particles. Make sure that the seal around the face is tight.

Many counterfeit respirator masks claim to have NIOSH approval.

The CDC says that counterfeit masks usually have:

  • no markings on the filter
  • no NIOSH markings
  • no approval (TC) number
  • decorative fabrics or pieces
  • claims of suitability for children
  • ear loops instead of headbands

The CDC provides a database of counterfeit masks. Carefully check masks before making a purchase. A counterfeit mask may not provide as much protection against COVID-19.

If a person has any symptoms of COVID-19, they should get tested.

Some symptoms of COVID-19 include:

Learn more about COVID-19 symptoms.

People should also test if they have had close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Some people may need to test more frequently, depending on employer or travel requirements.

Learn about purchasing COVID-19 tests online.

Below are some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 face masks.

Are N95 or KN95 masks better for COVID-19 protection?

A 2021 study found that N95 masks were more effective against COVID-19 than KN95 masks, if their fit was correct.

Having a correct fit is crucial. The CDC recommends checking for any gaps that allow air flow around the sides of the mask. People with beards may find it more difficult to get a correct fit, so they may prefer to shave or trim their beard, wear two masks, or wear a mask brace to improve the fit.

How many times can I reuse N95 or KN95 masks?

According to current guidance from the CDC, a person should wear each of these masks no more than five times.

Wearing them for longer may reduce their effectiveness against COVID-19.

How long can I wear a KN95 mask?

There is no guidance about how long a person can continuously wear a KN95 mask.

A person should dispose of their mask after five uses or earlier if it becomes damaged.

Wearing a face mask is one way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

A variety of masks are available, including surgical, cloth, N95, KN95, and KN94. Ensure that the face mask fits snugly around the face and has at least two layers of protection.