ISSN: 2581-3684
Archives of Pulmonology and Respiratory Care
Review Article       Open Access      Peer-Reviewed

The effectiveness of different types of face masks

Queen G Wamungu1*, Joan Liverpool2, Crystal Loney3, Jodene Brevitte3 and Nirvani Goberdhan1

1Medical Student (MD), Rajiv Gandhi University of Science & Technology, Guyana (South America)
2Adjunct Professor/Director Deskan Restoring Hope, Inc, Guyana (South America)
3Green Heart Medical University, Guyana (South America)
*Corresponding author: Queen G Wamungu, Medical Student (MD), Rajiv Gandhi University of Science & Technology, Lot 7 Middleton Street, Campbellville, Georgetown, Guyana (South America), Tel: +(592)-630-9825; E-mail:;
Received: 14 September, 2020 | Accepted: 21 September, 2020 | Published: 22 September, 2020

Cite this as

Wamungu QG, Liverpool J, Loney C, Brevitte J, Goberdhan N (2020) The effectiveness of different types of face masks. Arch Pulmonol Respir Care 6(1): 068-071. DOI: 10.17352/aprc.000059


The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to be a major health burden in many countries around the world with astonishing reports of fatalities. The burden on the health care systems around the world has been tremendous with a death toll of over 190,000 deaths in the US [1]. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease is spread via respiratory droplets [2]. According to a study published by Durgesh Sinha and Nicholas Klahn, from Tempa University and Rowan College at Burlington college respectively, on April 12th, 2020, titled “Mathematical modeling study of the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak in the United States”, 40% - 80% of Covid-19 transmission arise from people who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic [3].

In addition to social distancing and regular hand washing/sanitizing techniques, WHO recommends that everyone above age 2 years old should wear a face mask to prevent further spread of the SARS-CoV-2 [4].

Types of face masks

[5] Face masks are divided into two general categories; Medical and Non-medical. Medical face masks include professional respirators (N-95), surgical and non-surgical face masks. Non-medical face masks consist of homemade masks, and filtered masks.

Five (5) Factors that affect the efficacy of face masks against SARS-CoV-2 ?

Size of respiratory droplets: It is important to note that SARS-CoV-2 viral particles are expelled from the respiratory tract as relatively large droplets whenever an infected individual talks, coughs, or sneezes, less so by simply breathing. Larger droplets fall to the ground while smaller droplets are generally suspended in the air then evaporate a few seconds later, downsizing to smaller droplets of about 5-10 micrometers that can float longer in the air [6]. Therefore, for masks to be efficacious, they must be able to filter particles of the aforementioned sizes. It is therefore important to consider the type of material used to make the face masks and what each is approved for filtering.

Mode of the expulsion of respiratory droplets: Earlier studies suggested that the SARS-Cov-2 virus was spread mainly through coughing, but recent studies suggest that talking is also an important mode of transmission. The louder you speak, the more droplets are expelled and therefore there is a higher viral load transmission and an increased chance of transmitting the SARS-Cov-2 virus [6]. Coughing will force droplets into the air at more considerable force, allowing them to travel farther distances and widening the infectious perimeter around the infected party.

Material of face masks: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulate N95 respirators. They are tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency (particulate filtration efficiency, and bacterial filtration efficiency), flammability and biocompatibility [7]. Non-medical masks are made from different materials and designs with or without filter papers. The combination of material, amount of layers, the presence of filters and how tightly the material is woven will affect the efficacy of the face mask [8].

Fit of face masks: The fit of the masks is very important to consider for protecting yourself against COVID-19. It should fit tightly enough to create a seal but comfortably enough to prevent frequent repositioning.

“In general, a mask is less helpful or counterproductive if it is not covering the nose and mouth, such as worn down around the neck for extended periods of time or if it is poorly fitting to the point that it requires frequent adjustment, which brings your hands close to your face repeatedly,” said Dr. George Anesi, director of the Medical Critical Care Bioresponse team at Penn Medicine [9].

The technique used in donning, removing and reusing face masks: WHO recommends extended use (up to 6 hours) over reuse but in extenuating circumstances, such as short supply, face masks can be re-processed (sterilized) and reused. Extended use is accepted if the face mask is damaged, soiled, or wet [10]. The diagram below [Figure 1] was recommended for guiding the reuse of face masks in the medical setting. For non-medical settings, cloth masks should be washed frequently for the most effective outcome [8].

Efficacy of Non-Medical face masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19

The use of non-medical face masks outside of the healthcare setting is recommended but may be inadequate in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus says a study conducted by the College of Public Health Medicine Evidence-based COVID-19 Task Team. They stated that not much evidence has been garnered pertaining to the efficacy of cloth masks in comparison to their medical counterparts. They also stated with moderate certainty that the number of cases increases with the use of cloth masks [11]. 

Non-medical masks are readily available from many local sources and therefore impossible to adequately regulate, which seems to be a part of the problem. The goal of community-wide mask-wearing is to quell the spread of the COVID-19 by decreasing the number of respiratory droplets that are spread by pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers [12], says the European Center for Disease Control.

The percentage efficacy of some household non-medical masks has been stated by one preprints article to be “between a 49% and 86% filtration rate for 0.02 µm exhaled particles whereas surgical masks filtered 89% of those particles.” Additionally, they mentioned a laboratory testing which showed “household materials had 3% to 60% filtration rate for particles in the relevant size range, finding them comparable to some surgical masks” [6]. 

According to a study published by Abhiteja Konda and others, on April 24th, 2020, titled “Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks”, the efficiency of homemade masks improved when multiple layers were used and when using a specific combination of different fabrics [8]:

o The function of aerosol particulate sizes in the 10 nm to 10 μm.

o Filtration efficiency of single layer: 5-80% and 5-95% for particles size < 300 nm & > 300 nm.

o Filtration efficiency of hybrids (cotton-silk, cotton-chiffon, cotton-flannel): > 80% (for particles < 300nm); and > 90% (for particles > 300nm).

o The enhanced performance is due to the combined effect of mechanical and electrostatic-based filtration.

Ultimately, WHO recommends the use of tightly-woven fabric masks made of linen or cotton consisting of three or more layers. Additional worldwide recommendations include frequent mask washing, comfortable fit, and proper removal techniques [13]. 

While the fight continues to quantify the benefit of non-medical masks, a few setbacks still remain. Many versions of non-medical masks provide an inadequate seal to the mouth and nose, there is poor fluid resistance and frequent readjustment is required [14]. Poor compliance and misinformation about their efficacy are also contributing factors. Regardless of these factors, they are effective in reducing the number of droplets spread when compared to the use of no mask at all [15].

Efficacy of medical masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19 Table 1

A review in the International Journal of Nursing Studies [titled ‘A rapid systematic review of the efficacy of face masks and respirators against coronavirus and other respiratory transmissible viruses for the community], health care workers and sick patients’ found that there is benefit in using face mask for healthcare workers and community members. The article stated that ‘‘In the community, masks seemed to be effective with and without hand hygiene and both together are protective.” It also stated that continued use of face masks and respirators by health care workers throughout their entire shift had protective benefits against contracting and spreading the virus.

[19,20]. Due to their scarce supply, WHO suggests that professional respirators should only be reserved for healthcare workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and procedural or surgical face masks can be worn by healthcare workers, not in direct contact with COVID-19 patients [4].

Efficacy of medical masks against COVID-19 compared to that of non-medical face masks

The results from a comparison of surgical and homemade masks against bacterial and viral aerosols from the review article in the International Journal of Nursing mentioned above showed that “the median fit factor of homemade masks was one half that of surgical masks. It went on to say that both surgical and homemade masks decreased the number of microorganisms expelled by the test subjects but the surgical masks were 3 times more effective [19,20].


Based on the literature reviewed, it is safe to say that wearing face masks at the community level and in medical settings will decrease the spread of COVID-19 by:

1. Preventing Sars-CoV-2 droplets from leaving the infected wearer and entering the environment.

2. Preventing Sars-CoV-2 droplets from entering the respiratory tract of the uninfected wearer .

Face masks can be used as personal protective equipment (PPE) or for blocking infected droplets produced by the wearer.

Some face masks can act as both PPE and a means of preventing droplet transmission from the wearer (Surgical Masks, N95) while others will only act as a PPE (N95 with one-way outlet valves) and do not protect the public from the wearer.

Others, such as the cloth mask will protect the public from the infected wearer but offer less protection for the wearer from the infectious public.

In summation, after a thorough review of 20 literatures, we have determined that the use of face masks will greatly reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the community level and in medical settings, by reducing viral droplets transmission.

Crystal Loney: GreenHeart Medical University, contributing author.

Jodene Brevitte: GreenHeart Medical University, contributing author.

Nirvani Goberdhan: Rajiv Gandhi University of Science & Technology, contributing author.

Dr. Joan Liverpool CHES, Ed.D, MD: Adjunct Professor/Director Deskan Restoring Hope, Inc.

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© 2020 Wamungu QG, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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