Seeking recommendations for masks as we start to "reopen"
June 12, 2020 7:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations on where to buy good quality non-medical masks as we enter this new phase of "reopening."

It's been asked recently, but I'd like to re-up the question since there were only two "where to buy" recommendations and one of those links is dead.

TBH, I'm pretty astonished how hard it's been to find good reusable masks online and also astonished how many inappropriate ones (e.g., exhale valves) are on offer. At this point I'd expect there to be a booming market of effective, comfortable, and even stylish masks (not that I care about that), but I'm just not finding them.

I do have some masks that are... kinda ok? I think they're safe both for me and for others. Initially, when masks were scarce I was using homemade masks or buffs, but I don't think they were really satisfactory and they didn't really seal or filter properly. I'm looking for something better.

I'm not particularly interested on discussions about efficacy of masks; assume we agree they're important. I just want to know what's good and available and where to buy them.

Requirements (general):

- Reusable and/or washable for at least a week but preferably longer
- Sufficient filtration
- Seals well around face and nose bridge
- Easy to fit/adjust straps and nose bridge
- Comfortable
- No exhale valve!

Requirements (special):

- I happen to need straps that go around my neck/head since ear loops don't work with my floppy ears. But please feel free to recommend for others who may not have my issue.


- Stylish would be nice, but totally not required


- I would prefer to leave medical-grade masks for healthcare and eldercare workers.

What do y'all like? Where can I buy them?!
posted by sjswitzer to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: To kick this off, here's the kinda-ok mask I found, at Los Angeles Apparel (um, yeah, those guys).

Almost meets my requirements, but doesn't adjust easily, and the strap elastic and nose-bridge pinching metal wear out faster than I like.
posted by sjswitzer at 7:12 PM on June 12, 2020

I've been buying these from YellowBungalowDesign on Etsy. Comfortable, ties in the back, nice design that covers the nose, and a variety of colors and fabrics. No pinching metal for the nose by in my opinion this design doesn't meet it. They do note that if it's important you could likely fashion something into the pocket. Ships quickly from the Midwest.

The seller is related to a MeFite but I can't find the original link on AskMe.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:17 PM on June 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Tom Bihn! It looks like they are also taking bulk orders; an email address is noted in the item description.
posted by pril at 7:23 PM on June 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

If you're buying from a business, I think BigBud Press is moving some on a wholesale level that meet many of your criteria, but you'd have to reach out to them as they're not selling to the public. A friend likes their OV masks, and they tick most your boxes as well.

Reusable and/or washable for at least a week but preferably longer

WHO suggests washing daily, as does Mayo clinic. I can't find any CDC information directly.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:28 PM on June 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

I also can't get ear loops to work well around my floppy ears and enormous head, but I've had pretty good luck tying a loop of cord or twine between the two ear loops and running both sides of that loop that behind my head, one higher and the other around the base of my head. It is easier with a stretchier mask. I made a picture.

I can't say for effectiveness and they definitely don't have a nose thing to pinch around the nose* but I've been using masks from Threadless which at least are comfortable (once I stated using strings) and come in several designs I like (and several hundred I don't like). So those might not be the masks for you, but the ear loop cord trick still may help.

* I keep thinking maybe I could put little chunks of like weatherstripping foam or something in the gap instead of pinching the mask down, which is at odds with the straps holding it tight against my face, but I haven't tried it yet.
posted by aubilenon at 7:40 PM on June 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

VPL sells head elastics that can convert ear loops to an effective head strap. I like their actual mask designs (minimalist graphic/geometric, for the most part), find them comfortable, and they have a filter pocket. No nose wire, though.

The Tom Bihns are the most comfortable I've tried and do have a nose wire. You could use an adapter like VPL's (and there are others) to convert. Solid colors only. This week they're doing a broader range of colors than usual.

Hadley & Bennett's mask sucked, doesn't even stay on if you talk for five minutes.

(I think you need to learn to live with the fact that cloth masks do NOT seal and therefore their "filtration" is of limited value as well. You won't see too many exhale valves on cloth masks because the air escapes anyway. Most of the mask protection, under the current theory anyway, comes from catching the big drops when you sneeze or cough.)
posted by praemunire at 8:00 PM on June 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The tie-behind masks avoid my ear-loop issues, but there's nothing convenient about tying straps behind your head! Instead I've tied the cords to scuncis which made them effectively elastic and, with some one-time fiddling, fitted to my head. I guess this is sorta the exact opposite of praemunire's VPL suggestion, which will also try.

Quick note: I don't expect at this point to mark any answers as "best," although they have been excellent so far. I was kinda hoping these answers would serve as a crowd-sourced community resource and my needs aren't everyone's. Please keep them coming...
posted by sjswitzer at 8:20 PM on June 12, 2020

aubilenon, how is the quality on the threadless masks? I've seen a few complaints on twitter about them being thin. I certainly like the design options, and they're donating a portion of sales to MedShare right now.
posted by bluloo at 8:35 PM on June 12, 2020

buloo, they are two layers, of kind of stretchy material. It's fairly lightweight material, and air passes through it fairly well - so they're not as hot and don't impede breathing as much as the srs bsns three-layers-of-cotton ones my mom made me. But presumably that comes with some tradeoff in terms of effectiveness. Though the fact that air passes through the fabric more readily also means it leaks around the edges less, so IDK.

In terms of build quality I have like 8 of them, and one of them an ear loop came off immediately after I got it. It was just a few minutes with a needle & thread to fix, but still that shouldn't happen. (But that was before I gave up on looping the loops around my ears, so it was on very tight)
posted by aubilenon at 8:48 PM on June 12, 2020

I love the design of these ones:

folding mask
diy folding mask
posted by aniola at 9:17 PM on June 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I bought some of these masks from Mambe Blankets. They have a one strap that goes above the ear, and one below the ear, that meet at the rear of the head and are tightened with an adjustable toggle (so no tying required).
posted by ShooBoo at 9:19 PM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Don't let the exhale valve stop you. You can tape over it if you wish. As praemunire mentioned, the recommended masks don't seal.

I have done experiments. I vape, so it's easy for me to stand in front of a mirror and blow out clouds of vapor. I have done this with cloth masks and valved masks.

Even with a standard N95 mask, when you breathe in, it sucks down to your face a bit (negative air pressure). When you exhale it seeps out the edges (positive air pressure). Cloth masks are worse.

With a vent, it's the direction that it points the exhale. Down, or to the side... is no worse than a cloth/surgical mask. With a good non-disposable vented mask you can get a bit of rubber/silicone around the edges, straps around the back of your head and any exhalation directed away from directly in front of you. If you close off the vent with a piece of tape, and wear it really tight, it gets a good bit of the exhale filtered, but still leaks around the edges due to positive pressure.

The powers that be just can't possibly test every type of mask with a vent and if they did it would be too complicated to explain so vents == bad. Do the cloth thing, easy, explainable.

See if you can find something like a 3M™ Particulate Respirator 8293, P100 20 EA/Case | 3M United States that is not suitable for front-line workers, but meant for working in dusty or hazardous chemicals. Tape over the valve if you desire. Rotate through a couple of them.

Seriously, you vape with a mask where you can see your exhalation.... The mask is there to stop gigantic droplets. None of them are really filtering your exhalation. And even P100 won't stop CV19, it's only rated for 10x the particle size.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:02 PM on June 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh, I know some people who speak highly of these. They have cord locks so can be tied around the ears or behind the head. No nose wire, though.
posted by praemunire at 11:16 PM on June 12, 2020

I have been eyeing the masks from Baggu. I haven't purchased yet, so I can't confirm, but they appear to meet most of your criteria.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 5:40 AM on June 13, 2020

Someone recommended Madison Flitch on here a while back, so I bought one to try, and I like it a lot. No nose wire, but good coverage, secure fit (I never feel any need to fuss with it or touch it). You can get it with a toggle lock, so no tying of anything--that's what I got, and it's fast and secure to put on. I've worn and handwashed it a few times, and it's holding up nicely; I plan to buy some more.

It has a pocket between outside and lining where you can put a filter. Each mask comes with one filter, and if you want you can buy a package of replacements.
posted by theatro at 6:00 AM on June 13, 2020

Some excellent, stylish, very functional masks with a lot of options here:
posted by remembrancer at 7:17 AM on June 13, 2020

I've tried three different kinds of masks now - waiting on a shipment for a 4th. Disappointingly, so far the best in terms of comfort, convenience, and staying on while talking/biking/going about my business have been some of the ugliest and cheapest ones I got at the very beginning, from Maine Stitching. The elastics go around my whole head and just stay put. The fabric is from hospital curtain material and feels substantial, but isn't less comfortable than the multi-layer cotton ones and seems to get the same or less amount of wet-feeling from my breathing. They're just... ugly and kind of cheap (the stitching around the edges getting scraggly). But they actually are cheap (5 for $20 with the discount code, 5 for $25 without) so that seems fair.

I accidentally bought twice as much as I'd intended to from Proper Cloth and those were *not* cheap, so I am really really hoping that they work out great. But they have also taken close to a month already and have not arrived yet, whereas the Maine Stitching masks got to me within a week of ordering. If I don't *love* the Proper Cloth ones, I will probably just order one or two more sets of the Maine Stitching and not worry about them falling apart.

The other one that I've tried that were ok and might suit you were from an etsy store - Celina Sews. They have a nose thing and come with a filter you can slip in. I have no idea what difference it actually makes. The elastics go around the head, but they didn't stay on until I tied one of them tighter and now keep both of them below my ears, sort of around my neck. I was worried that would slip off but it's stayed on well tied that way. I think they look nicer than the Maine Stitching ones, but I feel like they were no more comfortable for biking/talking etc. I paid for the expedited service and they came very quickly. They are $14 per mask.

It's been great reading the recs listed here. Like you, I don't have patience for tying things around my head and I don't trust them to stay on. Of those listed here so far, the Mambe masks look most promising to me and I am tempted to try them.

I am really wondering about the benefit of the filter (like the kind one of my masks came with, but neither the Maine Stitching nor Mambe have pockets for). Does it actually make any difference? It doesn't seem to cover the nose/nostril part as much as the mouth part, and doesn't the illness get in mostly through your nose?
posted by Salamandrous at 8:03 AM on June 13, 2020

If you have a mask you like that you have to tie, but prefer not tying, you can add your own toggles to it.

I have the Mambe mask, which has a toggle, and it works fine. However, adjustable elastic would be even better in my opinion, and once you make the original adjustment, you can just slip it on.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:23 AM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

The seller is related to a MeFite but I can't find the original link on AskMe.

Yep, YellowBungalowDesign is my partner, and we’ve been getting great feedback on the masks, especially if you’ve got a larger head or a full beard. I’m a 7 7/8 hat size and the mask still fits perfectly.

She goes to the post office every day and everything listed is in stock. Thanks for the h/t NSAID.
posted by hwyengr at 9:25 AM on June 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great recommendations. Some look quite promising.

Special thanks for recommendations that include children's masks (Madison Flitch); I had not even thought about that! And a shout-out to aubilenon, whose picture brightened my day.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:44 AM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I purchased a 5-pack of masks from JCRT, as recommended in this earlier mAskMe.

I would say they meet your requirements. They are washable, seal well across the bridge of the nose when a length of wire is inserted into the channel, have a pocket to hold additional filter medium (I've used shop towels), and use around-the-neck/head elastics rather than earloops or cloth ties.

I wear a 7 5/8 hat and bought their Large. The elastics are a bit too generous for a tight seal on my face, but it's the work of a moment to tie a knot at the back of the neck strap to customize it for your own anthropometrics. I wear glasses, and find that the nose-pads on my glasses need to sit over the mask to prevent fogging.
posted by mumkin at 11:24 AM on June 13, 2020

As a glasses wearer, I love Aplat's mask design over the nose bridge. These are sturdy masks designed to last through many washings while giving appropriate protection, fabric-wise. If you sew and are not planning to sell the masks, they offer their pattern on their website for free.
posted by quince at 11:55 AM on June 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

I left out the Maine Stitching because I felt the elastic across the top got less comfortable with washing, but they were my first (I got them before the WHO switched recs to wearing), they were affordable, and they shipped right away, so I really should have included them. Even now they're the ones I grab when I'm just running downstairs for a minute (I rewash after every use).

I doubt a filter adds a lot, especially one not cut to fit the entire front of the mask (and given what's already been discussed about the lack of seal), but I figure the mask itself is at low enough efficacy that a modest improvement is still meaningful, if there are not offsetting disadvantages.
posted by praemunire at 12:00 PM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was just at Staples; they had med-surg masks and face shields at ordinary prices.
posted by theora55 at 12:08 PM on June 13, 2020

I have these cotton face masks from Passion Lilie and find them really comfortable and well made. I got the ones with the ties not the elastic.
posted by belau at 7:38 PM on June 13, 2020

A friend bought a few Volante masks and loved them. They will accommodate a filter (which I believe they also sell) if you want to use one.

A different friend, who is a schoolteacher, has been enthusing online about the eShakti masks (specifically the cotton two layer ones).
posted by anastasiav at 10:55 PM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I asked about masks back in April. I've been meaning to update that thread, but came in here to let you know that - well, hm. I was going to let you know that the Madison Flitch masks came with a velcro strap (in addition to ear loops), but it looks like they've ditched the velcro strap in favor of an optional toggle lock. I was going to say the velcro strap kept the mask snug on my face (but got horribly tangled in my hair), but I can't actually speak to the toggle lock experience.

(They did also send an update email saying they're now partnering with the "remarkably skilled seamstresses from refugee, immigrant, and minority communities throughout Kansas City" who first started making the masks for them, and they've now spun off a sister business called Madison Stitch to work with them more closely.)

Anyway - the one I bought, with the velcro strap, has been working fine on my smaller-than-average head, and they shipped reasonably quickly back in April, and I'm likely to buy another just to have a spare.

Hope that's helpful.
posted by kristi at 4:27 PM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

+1 to the eShakti masks. The 2-layer pleated ones seem to fit a wide range of faces and are the best I've used so far! I'm about to order another half dozen or so.

I also really like the Tom Bihn ones, but they don't fit anyone else in my COVID-bonded circle of 4. We're all wide of face and large of head, and they're small to ridiculously small (in terms of coverage area) on everyone but me (even the larger sizes). Something about my face shape works with it, I guess?
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:26 PM on June 24, 2020

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