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Our Picks for Face Masks to Buy—and the Latest Rules for Wearing Them

By Michelle Baran

Jun 20, 2020

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There are plenty of ways to make or purchase a—dare we say cute even—cloth face mask, including these Hedley & Bennett versions from the apron maker turned mask manufacturer.

Courtesy of Hedley & Bennett

There are plenty of ways to make or purchase a—dare we say cute even—cloth face mask, including these Hedley & Bennett versions from the apron maker turned mask manufacturer.

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face masks in public settings and masks are increasingly being required by airlines, museums, and other businesses. The bottom line: we are going to be wearing masks for awhile, so we should definitely all procure a few.

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This is a developing story. For up-to-date information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

In early April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance for wearing face masks to help slow the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19: The agency now recommends that we wear what it calls a “cloth face covering” in public settings, such as at a grocery store or pharmacy, and especially in areas of the United States with large numbers of coronavirus transmissions.

The latest recommendation is based on the results of recent studies that revealed that people can spread the virus without knowing it. According to the CDC, a significant number of people can have coronavirus without having any identifiable symptoms (also known as being asymptomatic) or are presymptomatic, meaning they are carrying the virus but haven’t yet developed symptoms.

Previously, it was advised that only those who are knowingly sick wear a mask to protect others—assuming that they are even out in public, since we should all stay home if we aren’t feeling well. As we await more widespread testing for COVID-19 and don’t yet know who among us could be carrying the virus without realizing it, unknowing carriers could be spreading it through respiratory droplets when they talk, cough, or sneeze. Thus, to mitigate further spread of coronavirus, the CDC is encouraging us to wear masks in settings where social-distancing measures are hard to maintain—meaning they should be worn if you will be in a situation or area where you won’t necessarily be able to maintain six feet of separation between yourself and others.

Note that masks are not meant to replace social distancing and public health measures that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. They are meant to be an added line of defense.

Where are masks required?

While the CDC simply recommends that we wear masks when out and about, a growing number of states now have requirements for wearing masks when out in public. They include California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

Individual counties and municipalities throughout the country have also issued various ordinances regarding masks (for instance they are required in the Florida Keys), ranging from recommending them to requiring them. Check with your local jurisdiction and any you plan on visiting for the most up-to-date requirements.

Additionally, all major U.S. airlines now require passengers to wear face masks—and travelers could have their flying privileges revoked if they don't comply. Many international carriers require masks as well. You should check with your airline for what the latest requirements are before flying.

Face masks are now required on Amtrak trains. As museums throughout the world begin to reopen, many are making masks mandatory. And many businesses, too, are making sure people are wearing face masks before they enter.

What is a cloth face mask and how does it compare to a surgical or N95 mask?

The CDC is asking those not on the front lines to reserve surgical and N95 masks for essential and medical workers.

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When you think of a face mask, you probably think of a standard surgical mask—a disposable, loose-fitting face mask. These are typically used by doctors, nurses, and medical staff to protect them during operating procedures and against infectious respiratory droplets. Some of them are outfitted with added filtration, and some have a piece of bendable metal in the nose area so that you can fit it snugly around the nose.

For total protection from a respiratory infection, health-care workers use something called a N95 respirator, which is much thicker than a common surgical mask and is fitted precisely to each user to make sure it is well sealed over the wearer’s nose, cheeks, and down around the chin.

The CDC is asking that those of us who are not on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic—those who are not health-care workers or medical first responders—wear cloth face coverings and not surgical masks or N95 respirators so that we don’t deplete the supplies for those who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and thus are at the highest risk of exposure.

I have extra surgical or N95s masks at home. Can I donate them?

If you happen to have unused surgical or N95 masks at home, there are ample ways to donate them to health-care workers, including this national map that indicates hospitals and health-care facilities that are in need of personal protective equipment (PPE). A site called mask-match.com is also connecting those who have extras to health-care workers who need them, as is DonatePPE.org.

How to properly wear a cloth mask

In order for a cloth mask to be effective, it needs to be worn properly. It should cover your mouth and nose area and stretch from just below your eyes to down under your chin. On the sides, it should cover about half of your cheek area, the CDC advises. It should fit snugly but comfortably and be secured by being tied behind your head or looped around your ears. It should allow for easy breathing.

Cloth face masks should be washed regularly (throwing them in the washing machine will suffice, according to the CDC), and when you remove them you should take care not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth and wash your hands immediately after. Children under the age of two should not wear a face mask.

What’s the best material for a cloth mask?

The CDC recommends cotton, but there have been reports about numerous ways to increase the potential efficacy of masks, including adding a filter—a recent story in the New York Times cited scientific tests that showed that HEPA furnace filters and vacuum cleaner bags scored well in filtering microscopic particles, followed by coffee filters.

How can I get a cloth mask?

A cloth face covering or mask is essentially a homemade mask that you sew yourself or that you make by cutting up an old T-shirt or by fashioning a bandana into one using rubber bands or hair ties, according to instructions on how to make face masks provided by the CDC.

Can I buy a cloth mask?

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Absolutely. And the best part is that many of the companies that have rushed to fill the mask void are donating proceeds to organizations working to fight the coronavirus pandemic or to those in need—some are even supplying masks in kind to health-care and frontline workers. Here are some of the masks we’ve come across that we love, both in look and mission.

Summersalt face coverings

Buy Now: $32 for a three-pack, summersalt.com

St. Louis–based sustainable swimwear brand Summersalt is selling simple but super cute masks that are reusable, machine-washable, and have adjustable ear loops. For every set sold, Summersalt will donate a mask to a “worthy organization”—and it has asked patrons to suggest groups that could benefit (you can DM the company on Instagram @summersalt with a recommendation).

Marine Layer super-soft masks

Buy Now: $25 for a five-pack, marinelayer.com

The San Francisco-based purveyor of super-soft tees is making masks from two layers of its trademark addictively soft fabric. These are the tie-back kind and come with a filter pocket. The colors vary. Marine Layer also offers the option to purchase a set of masks for donation: $25 will result in 10 masks donated.

Hedley & Bennett’s Wake Up and Fight masks

Buy Now: $22, hedleyandbennett.com

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, this Vernon, California-based manufacturer of must-have aprons switched production gears to make face masks. When you buy a mask, two will be produced—one for you and one that will be donated to a frontline worker. The company reminds buyers that there could be a slight delay in delivery due to demand, and that colors and fabrics are subject to availability and will change as they work through their supply. These are washable and reusable, nonsurgical cotton masks.

Everlane’s The 100% Human Face Mask

Buy Now: $28 for a three-pack, everlane.com

Our favorite San Francisco–based ethical denim and fashion label is selling these comfy cotton masks with “100% human” printed in the corners “to remind us of our humanity,” according to Everlane. Ten percent of all face mask sales go to Feeding America’s COVID-19 response effort. They are reusable and feature ear loops. The masks come in a set of three black masks, or a set that includes one black, one heather gray, and one charcoal gray mask.

Londre nonmedical face masks

Buy Now: $22 for a two-pack, londrebodywear.com

For every two-pack of masks you purchase from this conservation-based and women-led Canadian bathing and body suit company, Londre will donate a healthy meal to a single mother–led family in need. The masks come in a desert sage or blush rose color, are adjustable and reusable, and have a pocket that allows you to insert an extra filter.

For Days double-layer cotton masks

Buy Now: $25 for a five-pack (includes a donation of five masks), fordays.com

The Los Angeles-based zero-waste clothing company For Days is selling five packs of reusable double-layer organic cotton masks, the purchase of which includes a donation of five masks to essential workers. The masks have a pocket for a filter to be added if preferred and are outfitted with elastic loops that go over the ears.

Handmade masks

Buy Now: Prices vary, etsy.com

Support small businesses and local entrepreneurs by buying a homemade mask on Etsy. We love the simple but sweet patterns on these organic cotton fleece masks.

This article originally appeared on January 24, 2020, and has been updated to include current information. Products we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. AFAR may earn a commission if you buy through our links, which helps support our independent publication.

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