If Your Mask Doesn't Pass This Test, Throw It Away

This simple test will demonstrate whether your mask is effective at protecting you from COVID.

Throughout the past month, there's been a call from health experts for people to start using higher quality masks in light of new, more infectious COVID strains spreading throughout the U.S. If you're not sure whether your current mask is doing enough to protect you from coronavirus, there are ways to find out. In fact, experts have suggested subjecting your mask to a simple at-home test that will help you rule out masks that are definitely not safe to wear. Read on to find out how to tell if your mask should be tossed, and for more mask advice, If You Wear Your Mask Like This, You're Not Getting "Maximal Protection."

Hold your mask up to the light to test its efficacy.

Holding mask to sunlight
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Gregory Poland, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, told The Washington Post that holding your mask up to the light can help show you how much protection your mask is actually providing. You can use your phone's flashlight, sunlight, or indoor lights to perform the test. If you can see through the mask when you hold it up to the light, "it's not a mask," Poland said. And for useful content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

You can also try to blow out a candle with your mask on.

Candle
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If you want to do another test to see how your mask stacks up, you can try this other quick trick that experts recommend. "You should not be able to blow out a birthday candle with a mask on," Neysa Ernst, RN, nurse manager of the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told The Washington Post.

This mask test has gone viral on TikTok, and for good reason: It's a fast way to see how readily air passes through your mask. Amy Price, DPhil, a senior research scientist at Stanford University's Anesthesia Informatics and Media Laboratory, told NPR that when blowing on a candle while wearing your mask, you want the flame to stay lit. If you're able to blow out the candle, that could be a sign your mask doesn't provide a strong enough barrier, and there's too much air exchange between you and the world, Price explained. And for the latest mask news, Dr. Fauci Says the CDC May Make This Major Mask Change Soon.

These mask tests aren't foolproof.

older man with face mask and phone standing next to his bike outside
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These tests can't inform you for certain that your mask gives you full protection, but they are helpful in identifying masks that definitely aren't doing enough to keep you safe. Price cautioned that the candle test isn't infallible, and can't account for outside variables, such as the type of candle and individual lung strength. At the same time, she feels the test is still worthwhile because it can be useful in sussing out—and then ditching—masks that aren't working. And for more masks to avoid, This One Type of Face Mask Is "Unacceptable," Warns the Mayo Clinic.

Seek out masks that are recommended by health experts.

Woman Wearing N95 Medical Face Mask
AndreyPopov / iStock

Abraar Karan, MD, a physician at Harvard Medical School, told NPR that "being able to blow a candle out may be some measure of how well particles can exit your mask, [but it's] unclear to me how reliable that is as a proxy for small aerosols exiting with normal speaking or coughing."

Meanwhile, scientist and chief technology officer at mask company AM99™ Terry T.L. Au-Yeung, PhD, said the light test may be a good way to check a mask's layers and thickness, "but letting light through has no relation to letting the virus through." Au-Yeung warns consumers against conflating the transmission of light and the transmission of the virus.

Tests aside, when buying a mask, you should seek the kinds of face coverings that are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as non-medical disposable masks, masks with multiple layers, masks with tightly woven fabric, and masks with filter pockets. And for more reasons to upgrade your mask, If You Have This Mask, Get a New One Now, Experts Say.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Allie Hogan
Allie Hogan is a Brooklyn based writer currently working on her first novel. Read more
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