The COVID-19 pandemic is well underway, and as people stock up on groceries and stay at home, there’s one question at the top of everyone’s minds: What else can I do to protect myself from getting the coronavirus?
Many people are wondering if face masks or air purifiers can help ward off COVID-19. The answer is yes – but also no. Masks and purifiers approved by the CDC aren’t going to protect you completely. However, they do have potential benefits.
The following information has been compiled by our team at Sitejabber using scientific studies, trusted reports, and real consumer data as references. Here’s what you need to know about masks and air purifiers during the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
Before we discuss what works, let’s cover a few things you need to watch out for, brought to you by real customer reviews from our Sitejabber community. For the full list, visit our blog on the current COVID-19 scams.
Modern Beyond, a website that sells many lifestyle products, lists N95 masks for sale. According to the website, these masks include an activated carbon filter that catches 95.99% of particles. But past Modern Beyond customers say this mask is not what it claims.
“I ordered five N95 masks,” said Sitejabber user Chris N. “I received five paper masks that were completely inferior and not what I ordered. I have since read reviews online that this company has substituted paper masks for N95 masks before… [These] cheap paper masks are nothing like what I ordered and are not suitable for the purpose of avoiding virus transmission.”
Other Sitejabber reviews back this up, saying that they also received paper masks and were unable to return the product. Be wary of purchasing N95s from unauthorized sites.
Social media advertisements were popular before the COVID-19 outbreak, but ever since the virus began spreading, companies, both real and fake, have taken to social platforms (like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok) in droves to sell their products. At first, many of these companies were fraudulent and took unknowing consumers’ money in exchange for faulty products. Now, reputable companies are selling on social media platforms because it's a quick and easy form of advertising. It’s best to stick to companies you’ve heard of before when using any links from social media to order items like face masks.
If you’ve never heard of the company you want to order from, simply search their name and look for reviews before giving them any personal information or money. If a private citizen, and not a retailer, is selling homemade masks on a site like Facebook, check for reviews or pictures from buyers first. Don't always trust that people are being honest with what they're selling. While we've seen a lot of good and generosity during the outbreak, we've also seen a lot of scams and dishonesty.
Among many other types of COVID-19 scams in the news, the FTC has recently issued warning letters to companies against advertising far-fetched cures for the virus. Some fraudulent retailers claim that their HEPA air purifiers or UV light systems completely eliminate the virus. In fact, federal prosecutors are charging a Georgia man with “mail fraud and knowingly distributing and selling misbranded a pesticidal device” for claiming that buyers could kill COVID-19 in their homes with the air purifier he was selling, according to ABC News.
Read our section on air purifiers to find out how they can help mitigate COVID-19 risks, but not completely eliminate the virus from the air.
We’re now months past from the initial outbreak of COVID-19, and the White House is still recommending Americans wear face masks when out in public. By now, there are enough studies that prove your chances of contracting COVID-19 (and passing it along to others if you’re asymptomatic) are lower while wearing a face covering. There are many types of masks on the market today. Let’s first take a look at the difference between each type and the preventative measures you’re taking by wearing them.
Surgical masks are best for protecting against fluids. These masks are made of paper and commonly used by doctors and other medical professionals. They cover the wearer’s mouth and nose to protect from any splashes of blood or bodily fluids; surgical masks also ensure that no bodily fluids from the wearer get on the patient. These masks primarily filter droplets. Surgical masks must be disposed of after only one use. Surgical masks are made of paper and are more loose-fitting.
N95 respirators are best for filtering out airborne particles, including bacteria and viruses. According to the CDC, respirators are masks that “reduce the wearer’s risk of inhaling hazardous airborne particles (including infectious agents), gases or vapors.” Respirators are certified by both the CDC and the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
N95 respirator masks are more effective than surgical masks because respirators fit tightly, sealing to the wearer’s face so particles can’t sneak in around the edges. N95s also have a more sophisticated filtration system – they filter out 95% of very small particles and can filter out bacteria and viruses, too. While no respirator will completely eliminate exposure, N95s filter out more than the alternatives.
In recent studies, it was found that the N95 mask exhalation valve can compromise the protection of people in the surrounding area. While this has no impact on the safety of the wearer, this means that outward flowing air can contaminate people closeby if the wearer is infected. The threat is severe enough that the CDC has recommended not wearing valved N95 masks, and many cities and airlines have banned them. If you need to wear an N95, it’s best to wear the non-valved model to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
Although N95s are effective, we should try to leave them, and other medical grade disposable masks, to essential workers due to shortages. There are now plenty of reusable alternatives that the CDC considers safe. Read on to learn more.
Since there is a shortage of disposable masks for healthcare workers, the CDC, doctors, and scientists are now recommending reusable cloth face masks that can be washed after each use. Many retailers, both big and small, are selling them in different sizes, shapes, and colors.
The CDC recommends cloth masks that:
Which cloth masks are best? In a recent Duke University study, scientists measured 16 mask and fabric types (including no mask) for airborne droplet counts while speaking. The fewer droplets, the less likely for transmission of the virus. According to their findings, fitted cotton and cotton blend masks are best to reduce airborne droplets. Loose-fitting alternatives like gaiters, bandanas, and knitted masks are the least effective.
In a recent study of face mask effectiveness by Duke University, it was found that mask alternatives like neck gaiters and bandanas offer very little protection. The study measured the number of droplets that were transmitted by a person while speaking. More droplets went through the neck gaiter than any other type of mask. The fabric actually multiplied the number of airborne droplets, resulting in even more spread than wearing no mask at all. Airborne droplets have been recognized as the main source of COVID-19 transmission. Due to recent findings, the CDC does not recommend the use of gaiters.
The Duke study also includes an in-depth diagram of 16 different mask types/alternatives, ranked from most protective to least.
Masks: The CDC lists trusted retailers like 3M on their website, but now that we’re months past the initial outbreak, it’s easier for consumers to find disposable or reusable masks at retailers like Lowe’s, Target, The Home Depot, Walgreens, and Walmart. Many other local stores have them in stock as well.
N95 Respirators: When purchasing N95s and other medical-grade disposable masks, remember to only use authorized retailers and check for the NIOSH approval label from the CDC. Scams for fake or faulty masks are still found on websites and social media advertisements, and lots of our reviewers have encountered them. When encountering advertisements from an unknown company, take the above measures, and check privacy seals and certifications (typically located at the bottom of the website).
While masks are a great choice to protect you from COVID-19 outside of the home, air purifiers can be helpful for your home or office as well. According to the EPA, air purifiers cannot completely protect you from viruses like COVID-19, but they can help reduce indoor airborne contaminants like viruses, dust, pollen, VOCs, and pollutants such as smoke.
The CDC now knows that COVID-19 is a virus that is transmitted from person-to-person via respiratory droplets. This can happen when a person infected with the virus sneezes, coughs, or even talks. This is why air purifiers and filters can be supplementary tools to clean the air around you, reducing these potentially airborne particles.
Studies are still underway to determine if air purifiers can be a front line defense against COVID-19, but as of Summer 2020, the CDC recommends air purifiers as part of your overall plan to stay safe indoors during the outbreak. The CDC also recommends improving HVAC systems and using portable HEPA filters in workspaces to improve air quality and ventilation.
While the official position is that an air filter is supplementary to virus prevention, their popularity keeps increasing as new studies arise. The three primary types of air purifiers on the market today are HEPA, UV, and PECO. In this guide, we’re taking an in-depth look at each main type of at-home air purifiers, and cover brands and companies that could be right for you. Along with products, we broke down the research and studies surrounding the effectiveness of air purifiers with COVID-19 to help you make an informed decision when deciding to purchase one or not.
To buy what works best for you, let’s walk through how each type of air purifier works.
HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters have been proven to remove 99.97% of particles bigger than 0.3 microns by trapping the particles in multiple layers of netting. Purifiers with HEPA filters are often recommended for individuals who have allergies or asthma because HEPA purifiers can remove fine airborne particles such as dust and pollen. However, HEPAs cannot trap gases or chemicals, and replacing the filters can get expensive.
The research on HEPA effectiveness against COVID-19 is ongoing. According to microbiology professor Dr. Erin Sorrell, as quoted in BuzzfeedNews, coronavirus particles are too small (about 0.1 microns) for HEPA filters to remove from the air. On the other hand, a new study by NASA shows that HEPA filters are far more efficient than originally thought, capturing particles of 0.01 microns and above.
This means that HEPA filters could have the potential to capture the virus particles that cause COVID-19. However, more research is needed to officially change HEPA filters particle size ratings.
This idea is further supported by the air purifier brand Blueair’s claim that their HEPASilent technology catches small particles (such as viruses, bacteria, and microplastics) down to 0.1 microns. While their technology has been tested on regular household contaminants like dust, pollen, smoke, pet dander, bacteria, and other viruses, it has not officially been tested on COVID-19. Therefore, Blueair cannot make the claim that it captures, removes, or kills COVID-19. Hopefully, it can soon be tested so that we know for certain if these purifiers can capture the virus particles or not.
Air purifiers with UV filtration systems use ultraviolet light emitted at different wavelengths to kill airborne pathogens and microorganisms such as bacteria, mold, and viruses like the flu. To operate, air is forced through the device over UV lamps that act as disinfecting mechanisms. These types of filters are rarely seen as stand-alone units and are typically added to other air filter technology, like HEPA or PECO units.
While it’s been proven that UVC light (one type of UV light) can “kill” airborne coronaviruses, it is debatable if air filters that are equipped with these lights have enough time to do so as the air passes through the system. A study from Columbia University found that continuous exposure to UVC light would kill “90% of airborne viruses in about 8 minutes, 95% in about 11 minutes, 99% in about 16 minutes, and 99.9% in about 25 minutes.” This means that the air being pushed through a purifier would need to be exposed to UVC light for quite a bit of time to inactivate the virus. If the particles are not being caught in the filter, it would not be long enough for the lights to make a difference. More research needs to be done on the matter.
Air purifiers with PECO (Photo Electrochemical Oxidation) technology can capture smaller particles than HEPA purifiers. Although no purifier can fully remove coronavirus from your home, PECO filters may be more helpful than HEPA because PECO filters are created to destroy very small particles such as viruses. According to major PECO filter retailer, Molekule, their device works at a molecular level: “Light shines on a filter membrane coated with nanoparticles, which starts a catalytic reaction on the surface of the filter. This destroys pollutants of any size.” While the jury is still out on its true effectiveness against COVID-19, PECO purifiers can help remove other viruses from the air – and it can certainly improve the overall air quality of your home.
There are several brands of air purifiers you can look into for your family.
While no mask or air purifier is guaranteed to protect you from COVID-19, experts do know that the virus is primarily spread through respiratory droplets. Therefore, purchasing a disposable or cloth mask from a verified seller or finding an air purifier to capture tiny particles can help increase your chances of staying healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Along with potentially reducing airborne viruses, the more obvious value of air purifiers is to filter out pollution, smoke, and other unwanted particles floating around your home. Despite attempts to reduce harmful emissions, over 80 million people still lived in counties with air pollution above standard levels in 2019, according to the EPA. With so many living in these conditions today, it’s no wonder consumers turn to air filters and purifiers to keep themselves and their families healthy. From cooking and pet odors to pollen and harmful VOCs, you’ll no doubt be breathing cleaner air thanks to these products.
Have more questions? Reach out to others on our COVID-19 community Facebook group.