3 Important Things to Consider when Purchasing Face Masks

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Hey there! You clicked on our article, so we know you’re interested in Face Masks. Maybe you came because you’re anti-masks, and maybe you came because you’re pro-mask, but either way, we’re glad you’re here! And don’t worry, there will be no politics today. Just some great info about our locally made masks.

The 3 Most Important Things to Consider When Purchasing Masks

Okay, we both know that you are thinking about jumping right back on Instagram… but before you do, let us leave you with these three things when purchasing masks:

1. Look at the box and see where they were made Most likely China. If they were, try to see if they are sealed in some sort of plastic packaging inside the box they came in. If they aren’t, they will have absorbed in some of the odors associated with their lengthy journey. This is probably why people are complaining about headaches.
2.  Look for BFE (Bacteria Filtration Efficiency) or PFE (Particulate Filtration Efficiency) paired with a percentage – The box should say BFE >95% or something along those lines. If they do, excellent! If not, you’re buying the equivalent of toilet paper.
3. Consider Layers They are called three-layer disposable masks for a reason. They have THREE layers. The middle layer needs to be made of Meltblown Polypropylene (it will most likely just say Meltblown). This is what actually does the work!
Bonus Pro Tip: If the box says anything about ASTM F2100 and a level (1,2 or 3), then you don’t have to worry about 1-3 above. That means the mask maker knows what they are doing and you can feel confident knowing you’re buying a quality product that was made in accordance with international standards.

Alright. For those who have made it this far, I assume you are interested in details. So, let’s dig into what all of this means.

The Situation

We all saw the nightly news reports about shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) throughout the events of 2020. We were caught off-guard and knew we had made a mistake; relying on overseas production for the majority of our PPE. We weren’t able to get masks to nurses, doctors, and other medical staff, let alone small business and everyday citizens just trying to go to the store.

But as with any challenge, Americans came together and got to work. People across the country valiantly started making masks on their sewing machines at the kitchen table. Massive textile businesses re-purposed materials & manpower, while large automotive companies converted manufacturing lines to make whatever they could to help. What an effort.

However, during this mad scramble, there was minimal education or information provided to the public on exactly what different types of PPE are supposed to do, how they work, how they are made, or how they are tested. Key word being tested.

The Importance of Testing and Regulation

So that raises an important question: Who dictates what should be tested and how it should be tested? Well, that’s an easy one. It’s ASTM International. They have committees that have spent years and years both developing and documenting standardized test methods across hundreds of industries. This summary from their site says it best: “Over 12,000 ASTM standards operate globally. Defined and set by us, they improve the lives of millions every day. Combined with our innovative business services, they enhance performance and help everyone have confidence in the things they buy and use.

Ok, so now that we understand who is making the “rules,” let’s take a quick look at one of their standards in particular: ASTM F2100-19. This standard is titled the “Standard Specification for Performance of Materials Used in Medical Face Masks.” 

Within this standard, you are provided five key requirements that must be met.

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The 5 Requirements of ASTM F2100-19

Here are the simple explanations:

  1. Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE) The mask is placed into a machine and live bacteria in aerosol form is drawn through the mask. The machine will then tell you what percentage of bacteria was filtered by the mask.
  1. Differential Pressure The mask is placed on a machine and it tells you how restrictive the air flow is. The person wearing it has to be able to breathe. Sort of important. This is where it takes some skill as a mask maker. You have to have high filtration rates, but you can over restrict airflow to achieve it! Hints the less than sign.
  1. Sub-Micron Particulate Filtration Efficiency (PFE) Once again, the mask is placed into a machine. The machine produces micron sized particles which are then sent through the mask. The machine reads what percentage of particles were filtered out.
  1. Resistance to Blood Penetration – You guessed it, the mask is placed into a machine and a high velocity stream of synthetic blood is disbursed towards the mask. Once the test ends, the operator observes the inside of the mask to see if there was any penetration of the blood through the mask.
  1. Flame Spread– The mask is exposed to an open flame within a flammability tester. This will ensure that the mask is not flammable around birthday cakes, candles, or a lighter (cigars, cigarettes, etc.).

The Different Levels of Mask Performance

Reading left to right, you will see that the level requirements become more difficult to reach. Thus, the better the mask. Nurses, clerks, and the majority of citizens will only need a Level one mask depending on exposure risk. But a surgeon won’t enter an operating room without a level 3 mask (most likely in addition to a face shield, N95, etc.).   

At this point, most of you are like “Ok…. cool story, but what’s the point?” So, let’s wrap this up by discussing what that means for you.

What Does This Mean for You?

1. That cloth mask you have isn’t doing much. Period. It’s probably hard to breathe in and if it actually does filter anything, it will be minimal.

2. The second point is knowledge. If you read through this and learned something, that’s great! At least now you have a better understanding of what you need to look for when it comes to mask selection. 

Final Thoughts

I’m not a medical professional or a third-generation mask maker from some massive PPE production company. I’m a Citadel graduate and a prior Captain in the United States Marine Corps who took over operations for a small family owned business in Greer, South Carolina. Our company, Advanced Testing Instruments, has sold and maintained laboratory testing equipment across North America for more than 20 years. 

Utilizing this subject matter expertise with regards to testing, we saw a need we knew we could fill, so we quickly pivoted and purchased a mask machine in 2020. We brought it to the Upstate and started producing thousands of three-layer disposable masks. We formed a subsidiary company called Carolina Facemask and PPE and sourced all three layers required for the masks from American manufacturers.

And YES, I can proudly state that our masks have been certified by Nelson Laboratories to ASTM F2100-19, Level one.

If you’d like, you can feel free to contact me… I’d love to take some deep dives on mask usage, materials, consumer awareness, etc. The discussions are limitless and I know people will have questions.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! As a gift I’d like to offer a discount code “BLOG10” for 10% off a box of our masks. We also have sitewide free shipping. Check it out here: www.carolinafacemaskandppe.com.

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Carolina Face Mask & PPE

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