April 29, 2009

The Best N95 Face Mask (for swine flu or cutting concrete)

Face masks are all over the news these days, with countless photos of fearful eyes peering over blue surgical masks. You'd think they were the new fashion accessory, like going clubbing while wearing a Biore Nose Strip.

I'm not going to start wearing one all the time--that's just a little too paranoid even for me. But I did check my CERT gear to ensure I had one ready.

The best N95 mask is the 3M 9211 Disposable N95 Respirator.

This specific mask model is the one I use in my kits for the following reasons:

  1. N95 rating means it blocks about 95 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size or larger. Keeps out concrete dust, anthrax spores, tuberculosis, smallpox, and other nasties. Swine flu coronaviruses are smaller, but the droplets of sneeze juice are bigger. Better than nothing.
  2. Folds flat to pack well in CERT kits and other go bags.
  3. Exhalation valve means you don't get all fogged up inside the mask. This is an important distinction--masks that don't have valves have to force your exhaled water vapor out through the mask membranes. With a valve, you breathe out easy. This does mean that these masks are useless if the wearer has a contagious condition and is trying to protect others, but in this self-absorbed society, how often do you see that sort of thing?
  4. Relatively inexpensive, when there isn't a flu scare going on. Right now I'll bet they're flying off the shelves.

The real differentiator for the 3M 9211 mask is that it folds flat. Here are some snaps of an individual mask:

Photo of 3M 9211 respirator folded flat package

Photo of 3M 9211 respirator folded flat package

I've worn these a lot, when painting the house or cutting the concrete retaining wall blocks in the yard. The 3-fold design means they fit pretty well unlike the molded half-dome masks, and when you're done you can fold it up and put it back in its wrapper, back into the toolbox.

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