Back in March, when COVID-19 restrictions were being put in place in Massachusetts, I tried to buy some face masks, but they were sold out everywhere. After a month or so of rationing the few surgical masks I had managed to scrounge up, the first reusable cloth mask I preordered came in the mail. But it didn’t fit well, leaving gaps around my nose and by my ears. I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect face mask ever since.
You’re probably wondering, is there a perfect face mask? We had the same question, so we put more than a dozen masks to the test. But first, let’s say this: There are many cloth face masks available. We knew we couldn’t test them all, so we asked our America’s Test Kitchen colleagues what masks they have and what they like and don’t like about them. We then narrowed our scope to 14 masks, priced from about $9 to $70, and made from a variety of materials, shapes, and styles.
To see which masks were protective, simple to put on, comfortable to wear, and easy to clean, we put them through a host of tests: taking them on and off repeatedly; seeing if we could blow out a candle while wearing them (a basic barrier efficacy test); walking and running while wearing them; having users of different face shapes, sizes, and features try each mask on; and washing the masks after each use. We also used a thermal imaging camera to see where heat (aka our breath) was escaping through each mask.