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Where are you buying face masks?

Now we’re seeing face coverings worn more widely, what’s your experience been like shopping for them? Have you been tempted to make your own instead?

The government guidance in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England includes wearing face coverings in certain circumstances where social distancing isn’t possible.

Each of the three governments has published its own guidance on the circumstances where there may be some benefit in wearing a facial covering when you leave the house and enter enclosed spaces.

However, in Wales, the guidance has not changed and the wearing of face coverings is not suggested

Read the latest face mask advice and key information on Which? News

It’s not mandatory to wear a mask, but we have seen more and more people wearing them out and about in the UK.


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The government has now issued guidance advising that people ‘should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and when they come into contact with others who they do not normally meet’. But, what face coverings should you avoid? . ❌ N95 masks: these are medical-grade masks and are not appropriate for everyday use. Buying these could divert essential supplies from frontline health workers who do need them. ❌ Surgical masks: buying these could also potentially contribute to shortages for frontline workers, and they’re single-use, which isn’t practical for general public use day-to-day. ❌ Dust masks: these should be avoided because the valve lets you exhale unfiltered air, which makes them suitable for DIY projects but not suitable for protecting others in the community. . The best option for you is likely to be a reusable cloth mask that you’re able to wash between uses. These can help us protect each other without contributing to PPE shortages for essential workers. You can buy these on a number of sites, including Etsy or you can try to make your own. . #facemasks #masks #coronavirus #lockdown #COVID_19 #staysafe #stayhome

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Your shopping experiences

For many, buying a face mask will be an uncommon, if not completely new experience, so where do you start?

Lots of options for cloth face masks have been appearing on online shops and marketplaces, with prices generally between Β£5 and Β£30 for one mask or several, plus postage costs.

Read our guide on where to buy face masks and how to make your own

Our health researchers bought some masks from Etsy sellers recently, including pleated and moulded types with prices ranging from Β£7-Β£20. They found that while some fit well, others were rather loose – it’s important that the face mask you wear fits snugly.Β 

I’ve also noticed masks appearing on clothing sites that I regularly buy from – even some stationery shops appear to be branching out.

Have you been shopping for face coverings? If so, where did you buy yours?

What is the most important factor to you when buying a reusable face mask?
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Making your own face mask

Demand for masks is only likely to go up, so some may find it easier to make their own instead.Β 

It’s easy to do, so you may want to make several so that you have one spare while washing the other.

We’d like to hear your stories – have you decided to make your own masks? Or have you purchased any online?

If you’ve bought online, what was the quality like? Let us know in our polls and the comments below.

Would you prefer to buy a reusable mask, or use one you've made yourself?
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The only time I have worn a facemark recently was when doing DIY work. I’m not planning to put myself in a situation where it would be necessary to wear a mask in the foreseeable. future but I can see that it might be useful to be prepared in case I had to visit my GP.

Grace’s introduction makes a good point that DIY masks with valves are not a good idea because they do not filter exhaled air.

I wonder if scarves are useful for occasional use. I have a box of unworn ones that I have been given over the years. In the present warm weather they could be uncomfortable.

I have several family members in the NHS and strongly support the need to keep masks for staff and for everyone else who cannot maintain adequate separation from others.

Maybe there will be enough masks available for everyone soon.

I had no difficulty buying some of the single-use ‘surgical’-type masks on-line a few weeks ago. They arrived quickly and seemed a fair price. Being somewhat ignorant of the properties and types of masks I bought the sort of things that I had seen other people wearing whereas a cloth mask with elasticated loops might have been a better choice.

I don’t expect to wear one unless travelling on public transport or going into shops which I shall keep to the absolute minimum for the foreseeable future.

I think the government has not been of much help to the public in ensuring access to decent quality washable masks at a sensible price.

I also use full face shield, or goggles + mask. All kit is quickly & cheaply available on eBay

We own our own Company, and I agree it has been difficult to buy PPE at reasonable costs. The government really needs to help us if they want us to return to work. There are many stipulations on what we need to have, but nowhere to buy it from, or if you do you are constantly ripped off, for lack of a better word. Some Companies have been great, and tried to help, but others cannot be bothered to answer emails or phone calls. Needless to say when this is over, we will not be buying from them EVER.

Grumpyoneuk says:
29 May 2020

I use a snood. Turn it inside out and fold it in half to create a double layer mask.. Then you can insert a folded sheet of kitcen towel, or similar, between the two layers. Finally use a second snood to cover this from neck upwards if you really want a secure fitting. We’re using snoods from packs of six that we bought for traveling to dusty locations and offer neck protection from camera and binocular straps rubbing. (Also a poor mans cravat!)!

29 May 2020

It is of concern the way prices have escalated, and gloves and face masks are just not available at DIY stores.

Em says:
29 May 2020

A generally helpful infographic, but I am not sure why Which? would quote US standard N95, whilst we remain in the EU for purposes of trade and import regulation. As some members of the public are especially vulnerable and others may have a small stock of respirators available from trade or DIY activity, a better explanation might help them make the right consumer choices.

The European standard for filtering half masks (covering the mouth and nose) is EN149. It provides for three levels of protection FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3.

– FFP3 is the highest level of filtration, relatively expensive and generally used where hazardous powdered chemicals and other substances are handled. Members of the public are unlikely to have or need these, unless bought in error.

– FFP2 provides adequate protection from airborne viruses and dusts, and is roughly equivalent to US standard N95.

– FFP1 handles “nuisance” dusts and is sufficient to improve over basic Covid-19 social distancing measures, as a precaution when there is no known threat. It is probably as effective as a surgical face mask in that regard, although no equivalence testing has been carried out to my knowledge, because they are designed for completely different purposes.

I would think very seriously about buying any face mask labelled “N95” and not bearing the equivalent CE EN149 markings, regardless of general requests not to do so. It is most likely these have come into the UK via some unreputable source, a waste of money or even indicative of a scam. Unless you can trust the retailer and they have posted an appropriate disclaimer about not being to CE standards, steer clear, as you would with any child’s toy.

The majority of cheap DIY/dust masks of the type shown in the infographic do not contain a valved outlet and rely on positive pressure to leak air around the sides, hence glasses steaming up if the nose piece is not well formed.

Normally I read what is on packets but I was not aware of the mask classifications. I have only used masks when sanding paintwork and other DIY purposes. Checking the clean cupboard in the garage/workshop I have discovered two FFP2 masks bought about a year ago and some older FFP1 masks. I will reserve the better ones in case I have to visit the GP but otherwise I’m not planning to go into shops etc any time soon.

Apparently the virus measures 1 micron or less and would pass straight through most masks you are allowed to buy or make from ordinary cloth. Best keep your distance and wash hands, also bleach spray trolley/basket handles at supermarkets and the shopping when back home

Em says:
29 May 2020

That may be true for certain types of loosely woven material, but the virus/mesh size has little to do with how very small particles like viruses get trapped, even in commercial face masks. There has not been too much study of home made face masks. More research has been carried out on HEPA filters, as found in some domestic “Cat and Dog” type vacuum cleaners and air purifiers, on which the following is based.

At this microscopic scale, filters do not act like sieves. They rely on tiny effects to trap particles as they move through the mesh. You may remember learning about “Brownian motion” at school, where smoke particles can be seen to vibrate under a microscope. This is due to air molecules colliding with the smoke particles and changing their direction.

Virus particles behave in a similar way to smoke particles. There may be a straight line path through the filter material, but constant collisions with air molecules knock them off track. When they come close to a fibre, some will be attracted and intercepted, others continue on only to be knocked off track again, intercepted, and so on. That deals with at least 95% of 0.3 micron particles in an FFP2 face mask. Perhaps surprisingly, even smaller particles like Covid-19 virus are trapped more effectively, because they are more susceptible to being knocked about and getting stuck to fibres.

This process is most effective at low air speeds, as the particles are moving more slowly, get deflected more and spend more time in the filter material. So perhaps the worst type of face mask you can have is one where you suck the air directly through a small area of the material (like a tight surgical mask), rather than something that cups the mouth and nose.

At the other end of the scale, viruses we need to worry about are often emitted in bio-aerosols, small sticky globules of water, virus, mucus and tissue, maybe 3 or more microns in diameter. Being much larger than individual viruses, they are not subject to deflection by air molecules. But being much heavier, they cannot duck and weave in and out of the mask fibres, so impact directly and also get stuck in the mesh.

I don’t disagree with washing hands, but some stuff you read cannot be trusted as the basis for making life’s decisions without further evidence. At least “go with the science”.

It’s good to see some good technical info on Convo. πŸ™‚ The type of filters used in masks act as depth filters, in contrast to absolute or membrane filters with defined for sizes.

That should read: …..defined pore sizes.

Are they for cats and dogs? I presume layers of fabric will provide a nore tortuous route and trap more virus particles? I wonder if several layers of ladies’ tights are effective.

Em says:
29 May 2020

Only if you are robbing a bank. Otherwise a more fibrous and felt-like material is best. Think compressed candy-floss … .

I bought 5 masks online in March in response to an email from a company I had already bought underwear from. A wait of 5-10 working days was flagged.
The masks have still not arrived, yet I still receive 2-3 emails a week from the same company flogging masks. There is no response to emails and no phone number to call.

If I see someone wearing Y-fronts as a facemask I’ll know it’s you. πŸ™‚

I’m up to my elbows in fabric and elastic making masks for friends. Even if it only slightly reduces the risk of me being asymptotic and passing it on I am all for it. I am being careful though not to let it make me feel like I can get closer but it does make me feel a bit less panicked about it when I can’t avoid being closer to someone.

I have noticed some interesting differences in the shops here over the weeks.
Sainsburys and Spar: disposable masks
M&S: Handmade and colourful
The Range: Nothing and little concept of social distancing (went in once to buy a lightbulb and will not be going back any time soon/ever)
Lidl: I kid you not – DIY mask or a balaclava. In Belfast. πŸ˜€

I have made facemasks for myself, family and a few friends out of cotton fabric I have at home. They are fine but as a spectacle wearer find that sometimes glasses steam up which isn’t good. I’m looking for a resolution to this problem.

Em says:
29 May 2020

You can sew a piece of stiff, but bendable wire into the piece across the nose. This can be shaped to close off the gap that lets the steamy air out and fogs your glasses. A pipe cleaner or plastic coated garden wire might work.

Make sure then ends are not sharp and well covered over, given the proximity to your eyes (ouch!).

Do Not Bother Me says:
29 May 2020

If I am unwell, I will not be going out. If I am asymptomaic, then a neckerchief should stop me spreading the virus. The two metre rule is supposed to minimise the impact of some idiot coughing in my face.

I have made face masks for myself, family and a few friends. I make them out of cotton fabric I have in the house and they are fine. I however as a spectacle wearer experience problems of my specs steaming up. I am trying a few things out to try and resolve this problem!

Em says:
29 May 2020

Please see above (double post from E Sevil).

Em says:
29 May 2020

You could also try lining the edges with some self-adhesive draft sealer (foam), but make sure it does not give you an allergic contact reaction.

If I bought one, I’d want to know it’s the efficient and comfortable to wear

Em says:
29 May 2020

I wonder if smocking will come back into fashion? A matching smocked bodice and face-mask would make a nice ensemble, practical and comfortable to wear.

I have decided to make masks as I believe all medical masks should be left for the medics and carers. I researched extensively and mine have 2 layers of material that I believe offer the most protection – high thread count William Morris Tana Lawn cotton and denim with a layer of non woven interface in the middle which works a bit like a coffee filter but much better to have inside the mask than having to add it. I also think that cotton ties are better than elastic round the ears as they are more comfortable and more importantly make the mask fit better. I also have no seam down the middle which might let particles through. The design is like medical masks with gathers. They fit really well and are very comfortable even for long periods of time.
I am selling them on Etsy and giving all the money to Opportunities Zambia currently feeding hundreds of desperate families in Zambia. http://www.opportunitieszambia.org

I had to buy a Face Mask in Peru to exit the hotel – it is insubstantial. Having seen all the assessments of face masks indicating very limited capabilities of most, I don’t wear it for protection but simply to remind me that I am in a risky situation and I need constantly to be careful. That works!

Chris says:
30 May 2020

Brilliant comments from Em – thank you.

I read up on masks a month ago, I think mostly from this source:

Not being a specialist, I’m not certain I understood it correctly, but some useful points include:

Surgical Masks do not filter, they divert your inhalation/exhalation to the sides.
To stand a chance of protecting you, a filter mask must be sealed to your face. This is much easier to manage with a silicone face mask.
Many manufacturers include a ‘push-to-test’ mechanism. Makes it very easy to check for leaks.
FFP2 and FFP3 provided significant protection against water droplets carrying virus. If you have a mask intended to protect against asbestos, its probably FFP2 or FFP3.
DIY grade FFP2 and FFP3 masks generally don’t filter exhaled air; point the outlet valve down and away from others, or put a surgical mask over it. If you’re going to look daft anyway… πŸ˜‰ Obviously filtering both would be better, if practical.

Regarding mask shortages:
Right now, healthcare workers need the current stocks of effective masks.
If the public already have effective masks, we should wear them in enclosed public spaces.
I think we need to scale up production of effective masks, and then buy them.

Many more caveats I should include, but I’ll end it here.

I wear glasses and hearing aids so comfort on my ears is paramount when wearing a face mask.

Article on Science about face coverings pointing out it is about reducing spread as much as anything.