DISCLAIMER : I am not a medical professional (or a professional anything, for that matter); I’m just a guy who ordered a mask online and is sharing some thoughts in the hopes to inform and, mostly, entertain. For more serious/legit information about masks, please see here.
So, Mortal Kombat/Fallout/S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-like face masks are now all the rage, and have even become mandatory in many places (thanks, 2020!) Of course, they should have come into fashion long ago, because if 10+ years of taking public transit and working customer service have taught me anything, it’s that people are gross. Better late than never, I guess.
Now, I could have been boring and gone for a cloth mask, but if you’re a bit of a germaphobe like me, you might want that extra degree of protection and, most importantly, style. Which is why soon after the pandemic began making the headlines back in February, I ordered this baby.
I understand that these respirator masks are normally used for painting houses and such (unless you’re Robert de Niro), but they have other uses as well. For instance: making grocery shopping trips look like you’re venturing out into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in search of the Wish Granter.
Having one of these on you is also amazing if you happen to be peacefully walking down the street and some idiot decides to get the party going and opens up a few tear gas canisters (just make sure to have proper eye protection to go with it!). Oh, and it’s pretty darn handy for chopping onions without crying like you’ve just re-watched the season 2 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (What? I’m old. And sensitive, dammit.)
This said, what I soon realized was that 3M respirator masks absolutely suck for everyday use during a pandemic, on account of the exhalation valve that sends all of your moist buccal grossness out into the world (and other people’s faces).
As such, the only real way to wear the above respirator without becoming an ambulatory health hazard (and a colossal dick) to everyone around you is to cover up that valve with something that lets the air through but stops the grossness from escaping (IE, a piece of cloth, a coffee filter, the carcass of a small animal, etc.)
The other problem with this kind of mask is that it takes up a lot of facial real estate, and is kind of clunky to carry around when you’re not actively wearing it.
That, and also, my wife thinks it’s “overkill”. TRANSLATION: she will not be seen within a hundred feet of me while I’m wearing that thing in public.
Thus, in order fulfill my need of a more sedate mask, I started browsing around, looking for alternatives, and finally stumbled upon this one.
It looked cool, seemed compact enough, and the seller was Canadian. You should always buy Canadian. Unless you’re not Canadian, in which case don’t, because the shipping will cost an arm, both legs, your firstborn, and your eternal soul.
Anyway, this mask seemed like a good compromise between a respirator and a boring ol’ cloth mask, so I placed the order. Kudos to the seller for fast shipping because just about a week later, I had the mask in hand.
My first impressions, however, were a bit mixed. I do like the overall design, especially the way the inhale and exhale valves are set up. They do their job (mostly; more on that in a moment), the holding straps are easily adjustable, and the mask folds itself neatly into a relatively flat package when not in use. This said, I wasn’t overly impressed with the mask, for three reasons:
1. The nose piece is very stiff and the plastic thread attaching it to the mask “pokes” through on the inside, and into the wearer’s nose. I found it’s tolerable enough once the mask has settled in place, but putting it on is annoying, especially compared to the 3M respirator, which seals around the face with a cozy silicone border.
2. I had hoped that the valve covers were screw caps, but instead they just slide on and off. While they do fit snugly enough to (probably) not risk falling off during normal use, I’d be worried about them coming off when the mask is carried in a bag or such.
3. The ear pieces had bits of plastic shavings sticking out of them, and were initially quite uncomfortable to wear.
4. The mask doesn’t provide a full seal, though this might simply be due to me having a weird face shape; when exhaling, a tiny bit of air escapes from just below my eyes, inducing slight fogging in my glasses (though thankfully, the rigid nose piece does manage to prevent most of it).
Mind you, none of these issues are complete deal-breakers, especially since three of them can theoretically be addressed by affixing a bit of tape to the offending part: The ear pieces actually turned out to be surprisingly comfortable once I’d removed most of the plastic shavings, though the jury’s still out on whether wearing it for an extended period of time will be feasible. As for the inner nose piece, covering the threading with a piece of tape mostly eliminates that problem (there’s still a bump, but at least it doesn’t feel like murder hornets stinging your schnoz anymore).
For the valves, wrapping some electrical tape around them can also ensure a tighter fit, or you can just tape them to the mask directly, once you’ve installed some filters (remember my above line about buccal grossness).
The exhalation valve is pretty slim and doesn’t allow a whole lot of room for a filtering piece, but it will easily fit a piece of, say, vacuum cleaner bag material or, at worst, a couple layers of paper towel (see here for more suggestions of suitable materials to use as filters).
As for the inhalation valve, I found that a coffee filter, once cut down to size, fits perfectly. Note that this will not provide the same level of protection as a N-95 mask, or much protection at all, for that matter; it merely serves to put an extra layer between your airways and the disgusting outside world in the hopes of staving off potential virus particles.
As to whether I recommend this mask, well, that’s kind of a toss-up. For the near identical price and superior comfort and level of protection, you’re definitely better off with the 3M-style respirator, assuming you can find one. (Just make sure to cover up that valve if you do!)
Also, should you find yourself out in the streets leading a revolution or fighting Nazis Streets of Rage-style, as one does, the 3M respirator can probably absorb a punch better than the 3D printed mask, in addition to protecting against chemical agents. Just sayin’.
This said, there’s one thing this mask does that the 3M respirator doesn’t, and this is where it wins big:
I mean, the 3M mask is “portable” too, in the same sense that the Sega Game Gear (or the new, brick-like Nintendo 2DS, for those born after 1993) is portable. In comparison, the plastic mask is Nintendo-DS-Lite-if-it-was-designed-by-Apple-level portable. The 3M respirator is great if you want to go out S.T.A.L.K.E.R./Mad Max style, but it won’t do much good if you don’t have it on you because carrying it around was a pain. With the plastic mask, you can just stuff it in your pocket (careful about those valve covers though!) until your reach the grocery store, then put it on and call it a day. Plus, it looks really awesome with the valve covers repainted!
Or, y’know, you could just avoid all of this hassle altogether and just get a nice cloth mask, like a normal person. Just, please: if you cannot maintain physical distancing (such as when taking the bus), be considerate of other people’s health, and wear a mask.
Or at the very least, have a Tic Tac, geez.