This Mask Feature Doesn't Do What You Think It Does, Experts Warn

Let's clear the air on what this part of your mask actually does.

While the country anxiously awaits the pending results of the presidential election, the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S. In the wake of a new record of more than 100,000 COVID cases in a day, it's more important than ever to not let pandemic fatigue or other distractions affect your efforts to curb the spread. That means making sure you continue to wear your mask in public. However, just as important as wearing your mask, is wearing it the right way and knowing what your mask can and cannot offer in terms of protection. One mask feature in particular has been a source of confusion, experts say: breathing valves. Read on to discover why you should avoid these types of masks and how to make sure your face covering is providing the best possible protection from COVID. And for more tips on how to stay safe from coronavirus, check out This Is the One Thing That Is Making Your Mask Useless, Scientists Say.

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Avoid masks with breathing valves.

N95 mask
Shutterstock/JN 999

While masks with circular breathing valves embedded in the fabric may look more professional, it's important you don't mistake these airways as another line of defense against COVID.

"Some masks have valves that make it easier to exhale, but without filters, these valves do not trap the aerosols you breathe out, so they do little to protect others," according to a group of scientists consulted by The New York Times. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also advise against masks with filterless breathing valves. And for more on when and where you can uncover your face, check out This Is Exactly How Long You Can Safely Spend With Someone While Maskless.

Make sure your mask isn't loose around the edges.

closeup of person wearing blue surgical mask to protect against Covid-19

Instead of using a mask with built-in breathing valves, you are better off wearing a cloth surgical mask—as long as you wear it properly. Both the CDC and other experts say a well-fitting mask starts with a snug fit around the edges. If you have air gaps around your cheeks or above the covered part of your nose, those are like open invitations for the virus to enter your body. And for more on another line of coronavirus protection, check out This One Thing Is Better at Protecting You From COVID Than Your Mask.

But it shouldn't be too tight around your nose and mouth.

hands holding a face mask

While the perimeter of the mask should be tight, your mask should have a looser fit around your nose and mouth. This space is what experts call the "breathing zone," and is important to your mask's effectiveness.  Not only does it make breathing easier, the space increases the chances that particles expelled from your mouth will encounter, and be trapped by, the mask's fiber. And for more helpful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Make function a priority over style.


Homemade masks can bring a little style to your PPE, but the CDC highly recommends avoiding the use of "fabric that makes it hard to breathe, for example, vinyl." And for the ideal make-up of your mask, check out If Your Mask Doesn't Have Two of These, It's Not Working, Study Says.

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