Pollution Chokes Delhi, Mumbai: How to Choose a Mask Against Toxic Air?

Choosing the right mask to protect against air pollution can be confusing. Here's a quick guide to help you decide.

2 min read

Camerapersons: Athar Rather, Ribhu Chatterjee

Video editor: Abhishek Sharma, Prashant Chauhan

We're all looking for solutions to this pollution, but choosing the right mask to protect against the toxic air can be confusing, so here's a quick guide to help you.


Fighting Air Pollution: Which Mask Should You Go For?

  • Hankies, scarves and dupattas

These don't offer any protection against air pollution. The Health Ministry has also said this. This is because toxic pollutants such as PM2.5 are really tiny, and very difficult to filter out.

  • Surgical Mask

These are predominantly meant for medical use. So, they are designed to keep droplets from escaping, but not filter air. They also don't seal around your face so they don't really work either.

  • Multilayer Cloth Mask

These may help protect against larger dust particles, but, again, they don't filter out PM2.5 particles either.

  • N95 Mask (without valve)

These filter out 95 percent of PM2.5 particles, hence the name. They also come with little metal strips on the nose.

Protip: Get a size that fits you well for a proper seal.

But, they can be difficult to breathe in especially if you’re claustrophobic. Experts don’t recommend exercising with these on either, for the same reason.

  • N95 Masks (with valve)

There are also N95 masks that come with valves on them. These may not be as effective as the sealed N95s but if you have trouble breathing these are good alternatives.

  • N99 Masks

There are also N99 masks. These are similar to N95 masks, but they filter out 99 percent of PM2.5 particles. However, they can be expensive and you'll have to replace them constantly. So that's just something to keep in mind.

Apart from these you also get more sophisticated electrical air purifier masks, or P99 masks. Which are even better at filtering out pollutants such as oil-based pollutants that N95 masks can't.

But they can be a bit of an overkill for regular use and they can also be expensive.

So the bottom line is, all things considered, a well fitted N95 Mask is your best bet against toxic air if you're forced to step out often.

Masking 101: Thing to Keep in Mind

Once you’ve settled on the kind of mask you need, here are some other things to consider.

Make sure it fits on your face snugly, but is still comfortable. Go for ones with adjustable strings.

Make sure it seals well around your nose and the sides seal.

Ideally, respirators like N95, N99, P99 are disposable masks, which means they are designed for single use by the wearer when you’re dealing with pathogens. For pollution, you can reuse them a few times but it's best to discard them once they start turning colours, or if you notice black/brown residue.

Do not wash these masks.

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