Everything You Need to Know About 3 Layer Masks

A lot has changed since March 2020. While it feels like it has been years since the lives of Canadians changed drastically due to COVID-19, it was only less than a year ago. In that time, a lot of the science and research has evolved as more is learned about this novel coronavirus. 

We’ve gone from a “no-mask needed, just social distance” mentality to mandating masks in public spaces and even enforcing some lockdowns in hotspots.

As of November, the Public Health Agency of Canada now recommends using a 3 layer mask but, what exactly does that mean? Are your old masks unsafe?

The 3 Layer Mask

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has come out in favour of 3 layer masks. It is now the gold standard in non-medical masks for keeping those around you safe.

According to Dr. Tam and the recently updated guidelines, the mask should be constructed as follows:

  • Be made of at least 3 layers
  • 2 layers should be tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen
  • the third (middle) layer should be a filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric

Thankfully, (and unlike back in March-April) there is currently a steady supply chain of mask producers, many of which have already been developing 3 layer masks, for some time, that have a filter layer or a pocket to add a filter.

The Filter Layer

The filter layer is the main feature of the new non-medical mask standard. The recommendations are as follows:

  • non-woven polypropylene fabric, which can be found as:
    • a craft fabric
    • the non-woven fabric that’s used to make some reusable shopping bags
  • a disposable filter inserted into a pocket on the mask

To use these properly, you will need a 3 layer mask that has a pocket where a filter can be inserted. While the official recommendations open up flexibility in what can be used as a filter, the two most popular types of filters are the PM2.5 Activated Carbon and a PP Non-Woven Filter. 

The PP Non-Woven is the same type of material that is used in the typical surgical mask and consists of three different layers of polypropylene. They are meant for single use. 

The PM2.5 Activated Carbon filters are constructed of 5 layers of material that helps block pollution, dust, haze, etc while also adding an extra layer of protection in your masks. They cost slightly more than the PP Non-Wovens but are good for about 1 week of casual use.

What’s great is that the PPE industry has embraced the call for the added protection of a filter layer and are innovating by creating more relaxed face covering styles, such as bandanas and gaiters, to include pockets to add filters to as well.

Are Older Masks Still Good?

In short, it is a soft yes, if they met previously approved guidelines, they are still good in the meantime. The 3 layer recommended masks are an upgrade and an extra tool to combating the spread but not the absolute answer. Canadians should work towards replacing their 2 layer masks with the new 3 layer or try adding a filter to their 2 layer.

According to Dr. Tam, the most important part of any mask is how it fits. It should contour tightly to the nose and be made of good quality material. The general rule of thumb is that you ought to have a mask that you can easily breathe with but should make blowing out a candle difficult or impossible.

When purchasing a mask, make sure that comfort and fit are the most important features. Adjustable ear loops and a nose clip can help fix a mask properly to the face to avoid particles from escaping.

Many mask suppliers are also developing their own treatments that are added to the material to help give the masks another coating of protection that will hopefully aid in the mask effectiveness but also allow them a longer lifespan for use. For example, these 2 layer masks require less washing as the fabric is treated with an antimicrobial solution!

There is still no “one solution” to dealing with COVID-19. The new 3 layer mask guidelines are a step, backed by science, in helping to keep the numbers. If you have any questions about the different mask choices available to you, please do not hesitate to reach out to your Genumark Account Manager who can help you find the best recommended mask for your budget.

Stay safe!