If you’re using a surgical mask for protection during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should probably consider buying them in bulk or wholesale, especially if you live in a part of the United States with a lot of rain. These and other types of masks lose efficacy when wet, so here’s what you need to know about wearing face masks in the rain.
What should you do if your surgical mask gets wet in the rain?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, as we’ve been wearing face masks constantly, one thing we’ve heard over and over again is that face masks shouldn’t be wet and that they should be replaced as soon as this happens. Moisture can have a negative impact on their effectiveness, as warned by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In countries like the United Kingdom and some parts of the United States, rain is very common during the winter, which is why it’s important to know this to be prepared. So, Doctor Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease doctor, recommends to keep the mask from getting wet in these situations.
If you happen to get caught in the rain while wearing a mask, take a look around you. If you’re not surrounded by unknown people at a distance smaller than 6 feet, you can safely remove your face mask and keep it from getting wet. Either way, a wet face mask is not doing its job properly.
However, if you do find yourself in a crowded place where there’s a risk of contamination, maintaining the face mask as long as you’re comfortable breathing with it, would be better than to have no face mask at all. But, the best thing to do is to keep it from getting wet as much as possible.
According to researchers, surgical masks are some of the most susceptible masks to losing effectiveness when getting wet. They’re made of a material that resembles paper in the sense that it’s very weak. However, this principle applies to any type of face mask, even N95 respirators.
The wetness from rain, although much more apparent, isn’t the only type of moisture that should alarm you. As you breathe, talk, cough, and sneeze with the face mask on, you’re releasing fluids into your mask. With time, it adds up and it can become damp, and at that moment you should replace it, whether it’s a disposable face mask or a reusable one.
Some of the most widely recognized types of face masks in the healthcare field are surgical masks. They’re used by doctors, nurses, paramedics, dentists, and all types of healthcare providers in hospitals and other facilities. They’re often referred to as ‘regular’ face masks, but they’re tightly regulated and designed for their use in the healthcare field. No any type of face mask can substitute them, as they have to meet very strict standards.
Their main protective function is a physical barrier that prevents any type of contaminated material released during surgical, medical, or dental procedures from being in contact with the mouth or nose of the healthcare professional present in the room. These materials can be contaminated, and when in contact with the mucous membranes, diseases might be transmitted. So, surgical masks prevent this from happening due to their high fluid resistance.
They also provide some filtering properties, but they’re limited to large particles like bacteria. They’re not effective for virus protection in healthcare settings where exposure to the virus might be very high. For this purpose, N95 masks are the best option, as they can filter out not only viruses like the flu or the new coronavirus but also dust and smoke, which is why they have other uses in other work fields. Popular models of 3M N95 masks include the 3M 8511, 3M 1860, and the 3M 8210.
Both their filtering and physical barrier functions work also in the opposite direction, protecting the patients and any other person around them from being in contact with their respiratory droplets. The inner layer of the mask, as we’ll explain in detail in just a moment, absorbs all the moisture, preventing the user from releasing pathogens into the environment.
As a type of disposable face mask, surgical masks should be removed as soon as they become wet, damaged, or visibly dirty. Always handle these mask by the ear loops and avoid touching the inner or outer layers as much as possible, since this represents a source for contamination of both the hands and the mask.
What is a surgical mask made of?
Surgical masks are commonly made with a plastic material, which can vary but is most frequently polypropylene. All three layers that constitute a surgical mask are made with this material, but each layer has a different structure and, therefore, function:
- A fluid-repellent outer layer, which protects the wearer from fluids release into the environment.
- A filtering middle layer.
- An absorbent inner layer, which prevents the user from releasing their respiratory fluids into the environment.
These layers, just like other types of face masks out there, are made with fabrics that have multiple holes in them, which are called non-woven fabrics. These holes are there to trap the tiny particles we want to avoid. If you get this fabric wet, the mask loses efficacy as the particles won’t be filtered out as easily.
We would like to remind you that surgical masks and other medical-grade protective equipment, like KN95 masks, face shields, or gloves, are currently very difficult to find for sale, even online. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of cloth masks in the general public.