Disposable vs Reusable Masks
Throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic, many questions have arisen regarding the best methods of protection against the virus. One frequently addressed topic is that of masks. This article will attempt to address some of the most common questions by citing the most reliable research that is currently available. However it is important to stay aware, as new research is constantly being conducted and bringing improved knowledge to the public.
“Which mask is the best?”
Evidently, the N95 mask has proven to be the best option for providing safety against the
current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. However, these highly-effective masks
are in limited supply, and are mainly reserved for health care providers including doctors, virus-testers, nurses.
“So which mask should we wear? Disposable or reusable?”
Both the WHO and CDC recommend that people wear a cloth mask in public, as well as adhering to strict social-distancing measures. This is, again, due to the short supply of surgical masks and N95 masks needed by public health workers.
Furthermore, the tremendous amount of waste that results from the disposal of non-reusable and non-recyclable surgical masks is putting our environment in danger. They are also only intended for single use, therefore are thrown away regularly. Disposable masks contain harmful plastics which pollute bodies of water and harm wildlife, who may eat or become tangled in the masks (as shown on the right). Moreover, the uncontrollable disposal of these masks can increase the chance of an infected mask to cause secondary transmission of diseases to others.
“Are cloth masks even effective?”
YES. These masks are strongly recommended as they have been proven to provide protection against virus droplets. They can also be reused through regular washing.
The CDC suggests two layers of tightly woven 100 percent cotton fabric — such as quilter’s
material or bedsheets with a high thread count — folded in multiple layers. Thicker, high-grade cotton masks are usually better at filtering small particles. However, it is recommended to stay away from materials that are too thick, such as vacuum cleaner bags, as they will make breathing more difficult.
The graph on the left highlights the inefficiency of bandanas, which are commonly misused as cloth masks. The data results on neck fleeces showed that, astonishingly, there was an increased amount of droplets, probably caused by the dispersal of larger droplets into many smaller droplets .
Therefore the type of cloth is also significant to the protection that a mask can provide: cotton/poly or polyPro is highly effective, but bandanas and neck gaiters are notably unsuccessful at preventing the spread of droplets.
"Do we have to?"
It is your choice, of course. Cotton masks would be highly recommended as it is an eco-friendly alternative, but if certain masks cause you extreme discomfort, you should choose the one best suited to you. However, it is your responsibility to wear a mask that provides proper protection when in public, whether it be a surgical mask or a cotton mask, in order to protect yourself and those around you.
By Yerin Kang (10R), student at Bangkok Patana School.
References and bibliography
 Bangkok post (2020)
AFP. (August 2020), Medical masks best, cotton good, bandanas worse: Covid study.
[online] Available at: https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/1966283
IMAGE FROM: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-54057799 which references
SUE SCHWAR, SOUTH ESSEX WILDLIFE HOSPITAL.
GRAPH FROM : Karina Zaiets, and Karl Gelles, USA TODAY (August 2020), Cotton Mask
or Neck Gaiter? Check Out How Effective Different Kinds of Masks Are. [online] Available at:
han-others-against-covid-19/5535737002/ , which references