REUSABLE face masks sold at Asda and Superdrug are worst for filtering out bacteria, according to new research from Which?.
The consumer group carried out a test on 15 face masks looking at breathability, filter efficiency, the number of layers, and how they fared after five hot washing machine cycles.
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It found the best were able to block more than 99% of potentially harmful bacterial particles, while the worst only filtered out 7%.
Face masks are compulsory in England in locations including shops, on public transport, and where social distancing is not possible.
Similar rules are in place in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales where coronavirus measures are a devolved issue.
But as face coverings worn by the general public are not medical devices their sale is not regulated by the government, although manufacturers have to follow general product safety rules.
How did the face masks score?
HERE’S how each face mask scored out of 100% in Which?’s test:
- NEQI reusable face masks – 81% (best buy)
- Bags of Ethics Great British designer face coverings – 80% (best buy)
- ASOS design palm print face covering – 78%
- AB Mask reusable antibacterial – 73%
- Step Ahead reusable face mask – 72%
- Homemade UK government face covering – 67%
- John Lewis adult face coverings – 62%
- Smart mask – 59%
- Maskie loop UV sanitised reusable face mask – 58%
- Delphis eco professional reusable – 55%
- Firebox reusable – 54%
- Skinnydip rainbow – 50%
- Etiquette face cover – 37% (don’t buy)
- Asda white patterned – 36% (don’t buy)
- Termin8 lightweight breathable – 35% (don’t buy)
The Office for Product Safety and Standards has also issued guidance for face mask manufacturers to follow but it’s not compulsory.
Which? argues that while reusable fabric face coverings are not designed to block the ultra-fine particles higher-grade medical masks do they should help to block larger droplets.
The worst offender, according to Which?, was a mask sold by manufacturer Termin8, which is available to buy in Superdrug for £2.
This was followed by an own-brand mask sold by Asda, which cost £2.75 for two (£1.38 for one).
Third from the bottom was a mask from manufacturer Etiquette Face Cover, which is £3 for one from Lloyds Pharmacy.
While they were lightweight and breathable Which? said the one layer of fabric on all of them reduced their effectiveness of filtering bacteria.
Superdrug and Lloyds Pharmacy both say the masks meet manufacturing guidelines, while Asda told us it took this particular mask off sale in the summer.
Which masks were best buys?
Only two face masks made it into Which?’s best buys; one from NEQI costing and one from Bags of Ethics’ Great British designer coverings.
The NEQI version is sold by retailers including Boots where it costs £15 for three (£5 for one) and Ocado where it costs £9.99 (£3.33 for one).
Meanwhile, the Bags of Ethics design can be found at Asos and John Lewis where they cost £15 for three (£5 each).
Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: “Our results prove there is a huge difference in quality between reusable masks sold in stores around the country and online.
“We would urge manufacturers to use our findings to up their game and improve their products. Until then it is worth taking time to research the best option for yourself and your loved ones.”
An Asda spokesperson said: “The covering that featured in this review was produced before the CWA17533 guidelines were published and is no longer on sale.”
The Sun was unable to contact Etiquette but Superdrug told us: “We dispute the testing methods that have been used by Which?… [the mask] has been tested against the EN 14683 standard for surgical masks and the CEN Workshop Agreement which is not an official standard.”
We were also unable to reach Termin8 but a spokesperson for Lloyds Pharmacy said: “We have confirmed with the supplier of the Termin8 mask in question that it is compliant with all necessary requirements.
“We also stock a wide range of face masks that meet medical standards.”
Here’s how to make a face mask at home if you’d rather do it yourself.
You can also now get coronavirus tests at Boots – but it will cost £120.