Do you wish there was more guidance for which type of face mask you should use? Well, you're in luck! The American Society for Testing and Material (ASTM), an organization that publishes standards for everything from hand sanitizers to thermometers, just released its Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings.
The new standards outline factors for face masks such as fit, design, performance, testing requirements, and even how user instructions should be conveyed. The goal of these guidelines is to create a baseline for coronavirus protection quality.
We certainly agree that some standards were needed for the face mask industry. But this is only one part of the equation for informing the public. The other part? Equipping the public with the information needed to make the right purchasing decisions. In this blog post, we'll cover the questions you should ask your face mask supplier about standards.
Are Your Face Masks Third-Party Tested?
This is definitely the first question you should ask your face mask supplier. Now that ASTM's standards have been released, many suppliers are rushing to get their products approved and certified.
On the other hand, several other suppliers will avoid this process. Why? As Donald Milton, a University of Maryland environmental health professor recently told CNN, "You've got all these knockoff masks coming in. They're not very good, claiming to be N95 and they're not. So having some benchmarks is a step in the right direction."
In short, is your supplier dodging questions about face mask testing? Are they not making any plans to get their face masks tested? Then it's probably time to start looking for another supplier.
Is Your Third-Party Tester Accredited?
Not all third-party testers are equal. Don't hesitate to ask for more information about your face mask supplier's third-party tester. Also, take this data and conduct your own due diligence to ensure that everything you hear is true.
What Does Your Testing Really Mean?
Face mask suppliers can get tested for a variety of factors, such as particle filtration, antimicrobial effectiveness, and even fit. Inquire about the specific tests that your supplier has requested for their products. And when they get the results back, don't be afraid to request to see the data that supports their claims.
What Particle Sizes Were Tested?
It's not good enough for your face mask supplier to claim their products offer particle filtration. It's not even good enough to hear that their masks filter 99% of all particles. If the bulk of particles are larger than one micron, a claim of 99% particle filtration isn't really a definitive statement on your safety — it could mean that the face mask filters out a ton of large particles but possibly lets the smaller ones through. You should get specific on particle size.
ASTM's main test checks whether a mask can filter out particles that are 0.3 microns in size. While seemingly random, this size was chosen for good reason. It's a difficult particle size to filter, and if a mask can achieve this, then it can stop the airborne droplets that are most likely to carry viruses and bacteria.
To put this in perspective, let's examine the average COVID-19 particle. It's around 0.1 microns in size. But that doesn't tell the whole story. The truth is that COVID-19 particles always bond to something larger. "There is never a naked virus floating in the air or released by people," explains Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech civil and environmental engineering professor who specializes in airborne virus transmission.
Essentially, COVID-19 particles attach themselves to water droplets or aerosols generated by breathing, coughing, and even just talking. These droplets are composed of a mixture of water, mucus protein, and other biological matter. And they're all bigger than one micron. This is why ASTM's standards test at 0.3 microns in size. There is little evidence to support the idea that COVID-19 travels in particles smaller than 0.3 microns. In fact, they seem to always travel in particles much bigger.
Want to know what particle sizes Dotted Line Manufacturing is testing for? Click here to reach out for official test data!
What Is Your Face Mask's Particle Filtration Efficiency?
If a face mask supplier claims that their products block 100% of particles, that sounds impressive. But the face mask probably isn't comfortable to breathe in.
According to the ASTM standards, a face mask must filter at least 20% of particles to receive level one designation. This would equate to less protection, but easier breathability. On the other hand, a level two certification means that the face mask can filter out at least 50% of particles. But it's more difficult to breathe in.
To balance your comfort with adequate protection, it's vital to understand this tradeoff between particle filtration and breathability. And doing this begins with asking your supplier about their products' filtration efficiency.
Got Questions About Our Face Masks? Ask Any Time!
Dotted Line Manufacturing is excited and relieved that ASTM's face mask standards have finally arrived. We're in the process of running a few tests, and we'll share the results through this blog as soon as possible.
For now, we'd like to take a second to remind you that face mask standards are only one part of the equation for COVID-19 protection. The other part is being able to access the right information. And that begins with asking your supplier questions.
If you have any questions about our face mask products or the tests we're running, please reach out anytime. We'd love to discuss this with you!
Want to distribute anti-microbial treated neck gaiters and face masks that protect you from 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungus? Learn more here!