Using air pollution masks is the most effective way to prevent exposure to harmful pollutants such as particulate matter or toxic gases. But does every variant work the same way? Does the way of wearing it influence the effectiveness? And – even more importantly – how to verify which level of protection it provides? In our article, you’ll find all the essential information about protective masks.
With the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, masks have become an integral element of our everyday lives. In many countries, they’ve been customarily used long before the virus has spread around the world. In some, like, for example, Japan, having it on while using public spaces is an element of basic etiquette. The surgical masks, usually used for this purpose, are effective enough to stop the aerosols from spreading – but they don’t protect against air pollution. They prevent you from inhaling some particles, but only 20% of them get actually filtrated.
So, how to recognize the variants that serve this purpose? And how to know to what extent it protects you?
To know whether the mask can protect you from particulate matter and to what extent, read the product specification carefully. There are a few standards that specify the level of protection. You can find the masks marked with N (USA standard), KN (Chinese standard), and FFP (European Standard). All these standards are reserved for the anti-dust variants that protect you against the finest particles.
In the case of the N standard, the numbers placed next to the letter refer to the level of filtration they provide. More precisely, they specify the percentage of a PM that gets blocked by the filter.
Which models will protect you from exposure to smog? There are no masks that guarantee 100% protection against PM, but some come close with their N99. N100, the most potent filter, stops around 99.97% of particles. With this variant, you can count on the most complex protection. The same goes for the FFP3 or KN99 (with the analogical protection level).
Masks with HEPA filters stop you from inhaling fine particles that can accumulate in your body, causing far more damage beyond respiratory problems. But do they filtrate toxic gases? Not really. To neutralize volatile organic compounds such as, for instance, benzopyrene, you’ll need an additional layer of carbon filter.
A good air pollution mask should be equipped with both filters to provide you with full protection against smog.
A good air pollution mask should fit you perfectly, covering your face not only in the front, like the surgical masks, but also from the sides. Even if you choose the model with the best filter, you cannot count on the satisfying outcomes unless you make it cover your nostrils and mouth. The mask should be properly sealed – no holes or broken stitching is allowed.
The cotton masks often used during Covid-19 pandemics represent the lowest effectiveness among all types – at least when it comes to air pollution. It’s much better to use the surgical mask if you have to choose between these two. However, an anti-smog mask designed to protect you against smog exposure risk will always be the best choice.
To know whether the usage of the mask is necessary at the moment, use Airly.org. Via our app, you can check real-time air pollution levels in your area. Monitoring the air quality is the most fundamental measure you can apply!
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