What do I do with vented masks?
July 30, 2020 3:40 PM   Subscribe

We bought some masks with vents in them. Now what?

Back in late February, when the COVID wheels in the US were wobbling but hadn't caught fire, rolled off, and set all the dumpsters afire quite yet, I did what I thought at the time was a smart thing, and jumped online to buy a couple N95 masks and a few replacement filters. We all know what happened to the supply chain and masks (and the world) after that, so I'll fast forward to yesterday, when the masks/filters I ordered just showed up, long after I'd forgotten I even ordered them.

However, they are vented masks, the ones with the dime-sized plastic vent hole by one corner of the mouth area (they're cloth masks, not the white N95's like you'd find at a hardware store). These have been shown to be suboptimal - they prevent inhalation of but not exhalation of droplets, so they're not really useful as a barrier.

So the question is, what can/should I do with these things? I don't want to just discard them, but I can't imagine any institution/organization would want them as donations. I don't need them for things like home projects - we live in a condo and our idea of a big home project is hanging a new shower curtain liner every six months.

Any ideas?
posted by pdb to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We use them here for when there are wildfires and it's stinky and probably bad for you to breathe if you're outside. Is that a thing that might ever be relevant in your life? Frankly they were also useful when there was a large building fire not too far from here.
posted by brainmouse at 3:44 PM on July 30, 2020

Cover the vent with a piece of tape, either the inside or outside or both. Now you have a regular unvented mask.
posted by JackFlash at 3:45 PM on July 30, 2020 [18 favorites]

Are you sure they're real vents? My primary cloth mask (like this, also with a replaceable PM2.5 filter) has one of these on one side, but after reading about the dangers of vents I examined it more closely with a flashlight and found it was purely decorative -- the inside is flat plastic and doesn't vent anything.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:17 PM on July 30, 2020

Just wear a nice cloth mask over them.
posted by bink at 4:27 PM on July 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

dime-sized plastic vent hole by one corner of the mouth area

Do you mean the holes are not centrally located in the middle? If so, could you wear two of them, with one turned upside down, so the vents are blocked by the material from the other mask?

Not sure how comfortable it would be, though.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:34 PM on July 30, 2020

Those masks should be fine, probably better than fine. The current use of masks are essentially spot guards that should cover your mouth and nose to diffuse any respiratory fluids from being direct vectors to other people or surfaces. I assume these have a little plastic covering over the vent and the vent itself is a membrane. This alone should be OK, but it also sounds like they have a pouch on the inside for a PM2.5 filter. This is what supposedly makes them “N95” masks. Both in and out breathes pass through this filter and that is the real barrier.
If you do not have enough of the PM2.5 filters, you should be able to but a decent sized Filtrete filter with a rating of 1900 or higher and cut it up to fit the size of the PM2.5 filter. If buying a Filtrete, verify the filter you are buying does not have fiberglass in it.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 4:57 PM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

You are correct in surmising that the masks are not fine. You can cover them with another cloth mask or tape over the vents.
posted by schroedinger at 5:04 PM on July 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

JackFlash has it.

I have some of the same masks leftover from the before times. A square of duct tape on the inside effectively disabled the vent for me. To be 105% sure you can make a tiny ball of tape any cram between the vent and vent housing on the outside, blocking the vent flap from opening to exhaust air.
posted by token-ring at 5:21 PM on July 30, 2020

I would also cover the outside of the vent (as well as inside), just to let anyone who sees you know that they are safe. I internally freak out a little (I know I'm probably being irrational, but...) when I see those vents, and seeing it covered would be reassuring.
posted by gaspode at 5:49 PM on July 30, 2020 [14 favorites]

I put a round sticker over mine.
posted by pinochiette at 6:11 PM on July 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Vented masks aren't the worst thing in the world and might be an option for someone who has serious breathing problems because they have less resistance to exhaled air. All masks are going to leak around the edges when you exhale. That's why your glasses fog up. But the leakage is spread out and directed away from the person in front of you.

The vent valves have slits on the side so that the exhaled air spreads out sideways instead of directly in front. So not optimal but better than nothing.
posted by JackFlash at 6:56 PM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Personally, I find the N95 masks very suffocating and hard to breathe with when on. I've instead sewn my own masks with a layer of filter in between and it works much better. Perhaps you can add a thin layer of filter over the vent or if nothing just cover it up with a tape and shut the vent. Plenty of youtube videos on this.
posted by MetaSquid at 11:23 PM on July 30, 2020

I've found that a vented n95 with with a simple cloth mask over it is the best for my glasses not fogging up. If you have anyone in your house with glasses you might want to experiment a bit to see if something like that works for you.
posted by true at 6:24 AM on July 31, 2020

Thanks all! I think we decided to put them in our earthquake emergency kit, and also maybe bust them out the next time we can be outside and wildfires get bad in the area.
posted by pdb at 10:25 AM on July 31, 2020

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