Disposable 3-ply filtering face masks are one of the most common styles of face coverings used by the general public. These masks are constructed of 3 layers of non-woven material and are typically loose fitting. They are designed to create a barrier separating the users mouth and nose from dust, pollutants, and airborne contaminants. Typically discarded after each use, 3-ply face masks offer comfort, breathability, soft elastic ear loops that reduce pressure and tension on your ears, and a budget-friendly price.
While 3-ply filtering face masks do offer some benefits, they are primarily designed and used for blocking large particle droplets, spray or splatter and do feature some drawbacks. Because of the flat mask design, it will not conform to your rounded face and the ear loops holding the mask to your face are just not strong enough to fit it tightly. This results in gaps around the edges of the mask allowing unfiltered air to flow in and out. Disposable respirators, like an N95, offer much better protection against airborne contaminants. An N95 respirator helps you to breath filtered air through the filtered mask itself as opposed to unfiltered air around the edges. Respirators also have two tight straps that go over the back of your head and neck for a tight fit and seal, not elastic ear loops. When looking to protect yourself against a respiratory virus, N95 masks can make a big difference in your protection from infection.
It is important to choose your facial covering based on your particular need, situation and the environment you are in – indoors vs outdoors, crowded vs sparse, short duration vs long duration.