Which Type of Face Mask Is Best?

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDNovember 10th, 2020
woman wearing face mask

“Keys, phone, wallet—and face mask.” It’s the new mantra across the globe as face masks have become essential to keep handy to protect yourself and others from coronavirus (COVID-19). But there are a wide variety of face masks out there, from N95s to homemade cloth face coverings and everything in between. Which is best for protecting against COVID-19? Read on to learn everything you need to know about face masks: which type of face mask to choose, the best materials, and other essential considerations.

Cloth Face Masks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people wear face masks while:

  • In public settings
  • At events and gatherings
  • Using public/mass transportation
  • Around other people

Cloth face masks, recommended for the general public, vary in efficacy depending on a few factors. The first factor is the fabric. Choose fabric that’s tightly woven to create as strong a barrier as possible against small particles. Pro tip: If you hold the cloth up to a light and you can easily make out the individual fibers that make it up, it’s not woven tightly enough to form adequate protection. The CDC recommends choosing a washable cloth face mask with two or more layers of breathable fabric.

The next factor: fit. Your face mask should fit snugly against your face, adequately covering your nose and mouth. Bandanas and scarves, while better than nothing, aren’t as protective as a true face mask that will fit against the contours of your face.

And finally—let’s talk about filters. Some cloth face masks come equipped with little pockets in which you can place disposable filters, often crafted of polypropylene. According to a recent study by Duke University, a three-layer mask (with a cotton layer, a polypropylene filter, and another cotton layer) is the third-most effective face mask type after the medical face masks reserved for healthcare workers.

Surgical Face Masks

Worn mostly by doctors and surgeons in the pre-coronavirus days, these blue, flexible face masks are now seen across the faces of people all over. Despite their growing availability after a national shortage, though, the CDC still recommends that these stay reserved for healthcare workers who need consistent, everyday protection from COVID-19 in healthcare settings.

N95 Face Masks

N95 masks, as their name suggests, block 95% of very small (0.3 micron) particles. These masks are often round or triangular in shape and firmer than blue surgical masks, creating a tight seal against the face to reduce air filtration. They’re some of the most effective face masks available, which makes them most suitable for healthcare workers who are on the frontlines fighting the pandemic. Due to personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, the CDC asks that N95 face masks stay reserved for healthcare workers only.

Face Mask Dos & Don’ts

Now that you’ve read up on the different types of face masks out there and a few key considerations when it comes to cloth face masks, here are some other essential things to keep in mind:

  • Do: Find the right face masks for your kids to ensure they fit snugly over the nose and mouth
  • Do: Remove your face mask carefully, touching only the ear loops and folding the outside corners together after use
  • Do: Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after removing a used face mask
  • Don’t: Have your child under the age of two wear a face mask
  • Don’t: Wear masks reserved for healthcare workers
  • Don’t: Skip a face mask in favor of a face shield; face shield effectiveness is still being studied

In-Home Testing and Treatment for COVID-19


Symptoms that used to be par for the course in fall and winter—like a sore throat, runny nose, and fever—are more alarming now in light of

COVID-19. It can be tough to tell if your symptoms are being caused by COVID-19, the flu, strep, or just the common cold. That’s where DispatchHealth can help. We offer convenient, same-day medical treatment in the comfort of your own home—and that includes

COVID-19 testing and treatment. And don’t worry; we’re taking extensive precautions to keep our staff and patients safe, including wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and thoroughly sanitizing our gear and vehicles in between visits. Requesting a visit is easy—simply download our app, give us a call, or request care on our website to receive the treatment you need on your doorstep within a few hours!


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/respirator-use-faq.html#
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4868605/
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/about-face-coverings.html
  4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-face-masks-what-you-need-to-know
  5. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/07/01/880621610/a-users-guide-to-masks-what-s-best-at-protecting-others-and-yourself
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html
  7. https://news.llu.edu/health-wellness/which-type-of-face-mask-most-effective-against-covid-19
  8. https://hartfordhealthcare.org/about-us/news-press/news-detail?articleid=27691&publicId=395
The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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