Are surgical masks more reliable than cloth face masks?

The pandemic has shook things up. From the usual ways that people do, people have resorted into activities that made them stagnant like staying at home for example. Every day, positive cases for coronavirus pile up reaching millions. This led for governments across the globe to impose mask mandates. Masks mandates require citizens to wear masks in public.

Before the pandemic, masks have been a staple during the Spanish Influenza pandemic in the early 1910s. Masks have proven to decrease the mobility of contagion. As a repeated history, masks are considered as people’s first line of defense. However, the reality of masks is that not every mask is created equal. The N95 mask is the top most mask. But the mask itself has an expressed issue of scarcity. With this, people have resorted into alternatives like the surgical mask and the cloth mask.

What is a surgical mask?

A surgical mask is commonly 3-ply. Meaning, a surgical mask has three levels of protection. The blue part of the surgical mask protects the wearer against free floating particles in the surroundings. The white part of the surgical mask prevents the wearer from contaminating the people in the surroundings. The center part of the surgical mask does the filtering. The center part of the surgical mask is a non-woven fabric that does not have any holes to keep particulates from infiltrating.

Aside from the surgical mask, the cloth mask is considered an option as well. This is because the surgical mask is also running short. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the people to wear a cloth mask, instead of a surgical mask.

What is a cloth mask?

This kind of mask comes with a variety of colors and designs. A cloth mask is made from fabric, mostly cotton fabric. Woven and stitched in the shape of a mask. Unlike the surgical mask, the cloth mask is a washable mask. After every use, the mask is washed to make sure that contaminants can no longer multiply.

What are the differences between the surgical mask and the cloth mask?

As far as the material is concerned, the point goes to the surgical mask. A surgical mask is made from polypropylene polyester, which is found in most surgical masks in the world. The surgical mask is proven to provide protection to prevent the wearer from being contaminated. The surgical mask has a good filtration ability and it does not transmit any liquid substance like saliva and phlegm from the inside to the outside. The cloth mask is made from fabric. Fabric is known to have loose weaves as seen under a microscope. This loose weave allows a particle to infiltrate the system.

Though not as effective as the N95 mask, the surgical mask is still capable of filtering particulates. . In a study, a common surgical mask exhibited a penetration level of around 55-85%, with filtration levels of around 60-70%. These numbers speak so much about the filtration efficiency of the surgical mask.

The cloth mask on the other hand has a filtration efficiency of 79%. This cloth mask is a multilayer mask that is homemade and created from different types of fabric. The cloth mask has higher filtration efficiency than the surgical mask. The cloth mask has the upper hand.

Convenience wise, the cloth mask has the advantage. A surgical mask is not advisable for reuse. Reusing the used surgical mask can endanger the wearer. Virus and Bacteria are thriving on the surface of the surgical mask. Washing the used surgical mask is not advised as well. Whereas the cloth mask, it is washable. Therefore, the cloth mask can be reused.

Comfort wise, the cloth mask wins. Several reports have circulated regarding the surgical mask as a contributor of discomfort and skin irritation. The cloth mask is wearable for hours and there have been no proven reports of discomfort.

Which is more effective? A cloth mask or a surgical mask?

Between the common surgical mask and a cloth mask, the cloth mask obviously has the advantage. The cloth mask is proven more effective than a common surgical mask. A cloth mask that is available on the market is made from multiple layers of fabric. These fabrics are tightly woven. Also, the cloth mask is reusable unlike the surgical mask.

But between the medically graded surgical mask and a cloth mask, the medically graded surgical mask has a higher filtration efficiency. The medically graded surgical mask has a filtration efficiency reaching up to 95%. This gives the surgical mask an advantage over the cloth mask.

Can a cloth mask be an alternative?

As suggested by CDC, the cloth mask can be an alternative. Unlike the surgical mask, the cloth mask can be worn on multiple occasions without the hassle of changing the mask. This saves up money and time. Given that the cloth mask is capable of achieving 79% filtration efficiency, the cloth mask can make a good candidate as an alternative to the surgical mask. The surgical mask is effective but it can be quite costly over time. A cloth mask is cheap and can help you save.

Both the surgical mask and the N95 mask are considered an essential part of the frontliners gear. Without these masks, frontliners are open to contamination. It is important to have an ample supply of the surgical mask and the N95 mask for them to be safe, while keeping the numbers low. 

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