Airborne allergens can trigger environmental allergies, asthma attacks, and aggravate COPD. Indoors, you can keep your home freer of allergens with environmental control products like air purifiers and HEPA vacuum cleaners. Outdoors, however, it's impossible to clean up all of the allergens, pollutants, and potential triggers. Luckily, you can avoid exposure to these irritating outdoor particles with a well-fitting allergy mask. For more than just outdoor use, masks and respirators also help you avoid indoor chemical fumes, particles, and dust (especially when cleaning). During the winter months, many asthmatics wear special cold weather masks to avoid exposure to cold air which is a common asthma trigger. Still others wear N95 rated masks, or better, for protection against the flu and other viruses or pathogens. With all of these uses, it can be difficult to find the right mask to meet your personal filtration needs. This is where the Allergy Mask Buying Guide comes in. We sort through the marketing material and break down what key components you should consider before you buy an allergy mask.
Allergy Mask Buying Guide - Protection from Airborne Particles
Year round, particles are in the air we breathe. During the spring, trees, flowers, and weeds bloom, dumping trillions of particles of pollen in the air. As summer comes along, other plants bloom and continue this process, but we also see things like smoke from wildfires make an impact in certain parts of the country. The fall and winter months are marked by ragweed and cedar pollen, as well as mold spores from decaying foliage and an increase in flu and cold viruses. Regardless of the season, you can reduce exposure throughout the year by wearing an allergy relief mask while working, exercising, or just enjoying the outdoors. This type of mask or respirator can also help at places of work, filtering out fine dust and for allergy sufferers, even block tiny particles of known food allergens like peanuts or wheat flour.
The majority of the masks we offer are NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) rated. This means they have been tested by the agency that sets filtration standards for personal equipment and gear here in the U.S. For NIOSH, the filtration rates are based on a particle size of 0.3 microns, the same as HEPA. Some of our masks are imported from Europe, and these are rated by a near identical European Union standard of filtration. Still other masks we offer are independently tested. Regardless, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends, as a minimum, N95 masks (or equivalent) to help prevent the spread of the Avian, H1N1, Enterovirus D68, and other flu viruses.
Allergy Respirators - Protection from Airborne Vapors, Fumes & Smoke
Another way a mask can help is by filtering out smoke, odors, chemical vapors and fumes. These types of pollutants can vary widely but the most common indoor pollutants tend to be tobacco smoke,
vapors from chemical cleaners (chlorine & ammonia), perfume, and chemical off gassing from new furniture, paint, varnish or adhesives. Outdoors, common vapor pollutants can include wildfire smoke, vehicle emissions & exhaust, industrial air pollution, and secondhand smoke.
Trapping these types of particles requires a special type of filter media that contains activated carbon or charcoal, the same kind you will find in the most robust air purifiers. Activated carbon/charcoal adsorbs (binds to) odors, trapping them and preventing them from passing through the mask. In addition to helping people who have reactions from these types of pollutants, masks with activated carbon/charcoal are also a good fit for those dealing with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS).
Ready to compare each allergy mask? Visit our Allergy Mask Compare page to see a comparison of filtration, style, price, features, and the warmth of each mask we offer.
Before You Buy An Allergy Mask or Respirator
Before you purchase an allergy mask, there are two key points to keep in mind:
- What types of pollutants do you need to filter?
- How much time will you spend wearing the mask?
By determining your specific needs, you can more easily choose the right mask for you.
Adsorb vs. Absorb
Easily confused, these two processes are actually quite different. When a substance is absorbed, it is assimilated throughout the bulk of a substance. Think of your kitchen sponge at home. When you use it to clean up a spill, the liquid of the spill dissolves and disperses throughout the entirety of the sponge. After cleaning, the liquid can be washed out of the sponge. When a substance is absorbed, it adheres to the exterior of a surface. When VOCs and smoke molecules pass by activated carbon, they react and stick to the surface of the carbon, binding to it. This is why carbon is "activated" with oxygen, a process which creates millions of tiny pores and fissures throughout the carbon, giving the carbon much more surface area for chemicals to bind to.
As a couple other notes, all of our masks are latex-free. All masks do produce some warmth since all trap some of the heat and moisture that you exhale. In some cases this is beneficial while in others it can be an annoyance. Sealing around the face is critical. Often, getting the fit correct and the nosepiece properly adjusted is all that is needed to prevent the fogging of eyewear but more importantly ensures proper filtration. Facial hair can make some masks difficult to seal around the face, so while there's nothing wrong with a beard, you will get a better seal if you're clean shaven. Lastly, all of our masks are adjustable. Some only give you the ability to adjust the nosepiece, while others also give you the option to adjust the sizing.
Key Features of Allergy Masks
|Filtration||N95||N99 or N95
w/ Active Carbon
|Sizing||One Size Fits All||Multiple Sizes||Adjustable|
|Uses||Disposable||Semi-Disposable||Replaceable Filters||Hand Washable|
|Heat Build Up||No Valves||One Valve||Replaceable Valves|
|Filter Life||1-3 Uses||Semi Disposable||50-60 Hours|
Topic Factors To Consider When Purchasing An Allergy Mask
The type of filter you choose should be determined by several things but primarily by what is it that you are trying to filter. There are two basic categories, particles and gas vapors. Particle filtration is the most common and most used, so look for NIOSH ratings. NIOSH ratings (N95, P100, etc.) are ratings that test filtration of particles. Look for a baseline filtration of N95. This rating means that the filter will trap a minimum of 95% of all particles 0.3 microns and larger. This is also the CDC recommended minimum protection against the spread of the flu and other viruses. Remember, the higher the rating, the better the particle filtration. And for more info on what the letter stands for, jump back to lower section of our allergy masks page.
Allergy Mask Filtration Ratings
Ratings of mask filters are important, and all masks we carry are rated and compared on our Allergy Mask Compare page. We rate masks not only on the level and type of filtration they offer but also on fit and how well they dissipate heat (a common byproduct of wearing a face mask). Also consider other customers reviews and ratings of different masks. These can be found on the individual allergy mask pages and give you a good indicator of others' experiences with these products.
Types of Allergy Mask Filtration
As mentioned above, there are two basic types of filtration, particle and gas vapor. Particle filters remove things like pollen, pet dander, dust mite allergen, mold spores, dust and other fine particulate. Gas vapors, which are adsorbed by activated carbon/charcoal filter media, include tobacco & wildfire smoke, fragrances, perfumes, odors, exhaust, and fumes from chemical cleaner, paints, adhesives and other solvents. Some mask filters focus on particle filtration while others offer protection from both types of pollutants.
Some masks are called respirators while others, simply, masks. What's the difference? This depends on who you ask, but the most basic difference is a respirator usually has a valve that allows for heat and moisture to escape. Another big distinction is that some respirators can be used with supplied air instead of filtering outside air. The respirators we offer all purify the air, and thus, are very similar to masks. Generally speaking, respirators tend to be used more in work or industrial settings. The reality is, for most people, these terms are used interchangeably. Beyond this, there are masks that can be washed, some with adjustable straps, others with elastic, and many that come in a range of sizes and colors.
Disposable Masks vs. Replaceable Filters
Certain masks are inexpensive and designed to be used only a couple times before being discarded. There are some that are what we consider "semi-disposable", meaning they can be used more than a few times (if cared for properly), but cannot be washed. Still other masks are two part devices, a body and a filter. This last type of mask often has a body made of a more durable material (neoprene, non-latex rubber, etc.) and can be hand washed. This type of mask also features replaceable filters, and are generally the type that are worn with greater frequency.
How long your mask or filter lasts can vary widely depending on several factors such as in what type of environment are you using the mask, how long you wear it, what type of activity you are engaged in (respiration rate), and how you store your mask. All of these things can play a role in how long the filter/mask lasts. Generally speaking, masks with replaceable filters and semi-disposable masks provide 50-60 hours of use. Disposable mask life can be about half of that. Again though, it all varies by conditions of use.
Allergy Mask Storage & Reuse
Speaking of longevity, how you store a mask can play a role. Allergy masks or filters that focus only on particle filtration require no special storage. In general it's a good idea to keep out of direct sunlight and avoid soaking them, but beyond this little care is required. For masks with activated carbon/charcoal, it is a good idea to seal them in a plastic bag or air tight container when not in use. Activated carbon/charcoal will continue to adsorb chemical vapors and odors even when you're not wearing it. This can help extend the life of the carbon, and like disposable masks, avoid immersing them in water or letting them sit in direct sunlight.
Prices vary with masks. Our least expensive is a simple 3M N95 mask that costs about a buck while masks with replaceable filters can be as much as fifty to sixty dollars. There are differences in filtration rates, flexibility with filter, and increased durability that accompany the higher cost. Plus, most of the more expensive masks can be hand washed. In all, price should be balanced with use. Single use or low use masks will be less expensive, while masks that are designed to last many years will naturally cost you a bit more.
Now that you're familiar with what factors to consider and what will features will best help you, visit our Allergy Mask Comparison page to see which specific masks can help you with all of your personal filtration needs or Shop Allergy Masks.