The Best Masks for Air Pollution and Wildfire Smoke

The Best Masks for Air Pollution and Wildfire Smoke

First we needed masks to protect us (and others) against COVID-19. Now people living near wildfires are searching for the best masks for air pollution. Although we can’t see the tiny particles from wildfire smoke, “they are harmful because they penetrate deeper into the lungs,” explains Kabindra Shakya, PhD, assistant professor of geography and the environment at Villanova University.

In a study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology in 2017, Shakya and colleagues compared a surgical mask and three cloth masks to see how effectively each filtered out particles of various sizes. None performed as well as N95 masks.

“The fibers within [N95 masks] are designed to capture most of the particles, including those that are the tiniest particles in the air,” explains co-author Richard Peltier, associate professor in the department of environmental health science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

But of course we want to make sure health-care workers have N95 masks. And, if you have facial hair, they don’t provide the same protection since they can’t fit snugly against the face.

So you might consider disposable surgical masks. These came in second in the study, filtering out 78%-94% of particles. However, surgical masks can fit loosely — and therefore less effective — and wasteful.

What about cloth masks? Unfortunately, the data found they were not the best masks for air pollution. As the CDC says, “cloth masks that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets offer little protection against wildfire smoke. They do not catch small, harmful particles in smoke that can harm your health.” That said, adding a PM2.5 filter to a cloth mask should help it work better, Shakya says.

Based on all of this, below are some of the best masks for air pollution. With any mask, to get the most protection against wildfire smoke and ash, be sure it fits snugly against your face.

And, it’s worth noting, try to stay inside and avoid outdoor exercise when wildfires impact air quality where you live.

 

KN95 Masks

KN95 masks are similar to N95 masks: Both have multiple layers of material and filter out at least 95% of particles. The main difference is that KN95 masks meet Chinese standards, while N95 masks meet US standards of protection. However, the FDA has approved some KN95 masks for emergency use authorization.

Disposable KN95 Face Mask

disposable kn95 mask | masks for air pollution

Price: $55.23 for 10-pack
Get it at: Amazon

Eventronic Daily Protective Masks

eventronic kn95 mask | masks for air pollution

Price: $29.99 for 20-pack
Get it at: Amazon

 

Cloth Masks

When it comes to cloth masks for air pollution (and protection against COVID-19), the tighter the weave and the more layers, the better. The one below have multiple layers of material and hold a filter for extra protection. The first two listed have valves, which do not protect others against COVID-19.

BAIGEWA Cloth Dust Face Mask

baigewa cloth mask | masks for air pollution

Price: $7.98
Get it at: Amazon

Plaid Dust Mask

plaid cloth mask | masks for air pollution

Price: $13.99
Get it at: Amazon

Fabric Face Mask Washable with Carbon Filter

cloth face mask with filter | masks for air pollution

Price: $14.99
Get it at: Amazon

Kitsbow Face Mask, Reusable, HEPA Type

kitsbow cloth face mask | masks for air pollution

Price: $24.95
Get it at: Kitsbow

 

Filters

These PM2.5 filters all have five layers, ratings of at least 4.3, and at least 1,000 reviews.

10pcs PM 2.5 Activated Carbon Filter Mouth Mask Filters

carbon filters for masks | masks for air pollution

Price: $6.99
Get it at: Amazon

PM 2.5 Activated Carbon Filter Insert

carbon filter for masks | masks for air pollution

Price: $10.99 for 20-pack
Get it at: Amazon

Price: $12.96 for 30-pack
Get it at: Amazon

Price: $18.99 for 50-pack
Get it at: Amazon

brittany risher

About

Brittany Risher is an accomplished content strategist, editor, and writer specializing in health, mental health, and mindfulness content. After earning her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University, she worked at Men's Health, Prevention, Women's Health, Shape, and Greatist before going freelance three years ago. Today she works with brands and publications, helping them create content that engages their audience and builds brand loyalty. Considered a "Swiss Army knife for content," Brittany helps with all things content, from editorial strategy and project management to editing and writing. Her clients include Sonima, Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, Elemental, ZocDoc, Yoga Journal, Everyday Health, My Fitness Pal, and Centennial Media. Follow her on Twitter.

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