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In the face of new viral variants, frequently changing mandates, and shifting local transmission and vaccination rates, masks are likely to remain useful, if not required, for some time. Fortunately, compared with earlier in the pandemic, these days you have many high-quality mask options to choose from, including medical-style N95s and KN95s, which many experts currently recommend as the best protection against the Omicron variant. But depending on the situation, reusable cloth masks with incorporated filters can block particles nearly as well as medical-grade masks can, as long as they fit securely.
Understandably, most people would prefer a mask that fits like a proverbial glove, traps all incoming and outgoing viruses, lets you gulp in fresh air with abandon, and feels like it isn’t even there. Unfortunately, that mask doesn’t exist. Shopping for a cloth face mask involves making compromises. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the latest research on cloth face coverings and help you build a collection of masks that suit your various needs. We’ll tell you how to improve the masks you already have by adding a few inexpensive accessories. And we’ll explain how prioritizing fit and comfort can lead to better protection—for others and for yourself.
For each person, a specific mask’s effectiveness involves myriad factors (the size of someone’s head and facial features, their behaviors, and the environment). For this reason, we couldn’t possibly identify the most effective mask for every individual and every situation. So we favored masks that are adjustable in multiple ways and—when worn properly—can filter airborne particles better than other cloth masks, while still being easy enough to breathe through. All of them have incorporated filters or pockets for an additional filter layer and can also be worn over a surgical-type mask. (For more information on N95 and KN95 respirators and surgical masks, see below. We have a guide to N95 and KN95 masks, too.) Although the most protective cloth masks are those that incorporate an effective and efficient filter into their design (like our top picks from Enro and Happy Masks), the best cloth face mask for you is also one you’ll wear and not fuss with, so we’ve provided a range of options to help make that happen. In this guide we recommend a variety of cloth options (with incorporated filters or pockets in which to add one) that balance fit and comfort with filtration efficiency and breathability.
The Enro Tech Mask, available in sizes XXS through XL, has a bendy nose-bridge wire and adjustable ear loops, and it should fit most faces well. In lab tests, this mask filtered 99% of 0.5-micron particles.
Our panel testers liked wearing the lightweight, filter-incorporated Enro Tech Mask (formerly called the Enro Face Mask) more than any other model (as did our junior panelists, who tested pint-size versions for our guide to cloth face masks for kids). You can choose from six sizes and further adjust the fit with this mask’s pliable nose-bridge wire and smartly designed, adjustable ear loops. And, according to filtration efficiency and breathability testing we commissioned, the Enro Tech Mask sample we sent filtered about 99% of 0.5-micron particles (with a good seal)—more than any of our other cloth mask picks filtered. It’s also more breathable than the other masks we recommend. The only catch is that the Enro sits closer to the nose and mouth than do our other picks, particularly the Happy Masks Pro and Proper Cloth’s The Everyday Mask. A recent upgrade, the Enro Curv Mask, sits higher; we’ll be providing feedback on it soon.
This mask tents up over the nose and mouth more than any other mask we tested. So it’s more comfortable and breathable than if it sat flatter on the face. In lab tests, it filtered out around 94% of 0.5-micron particles. The drawback: It’s hand-wash-only.
Long a recommendation in our guide to the best face masks for kids, the Happy Masks Pro is now also an adult pick. A recent design update extended its vertical length, so it’s better at staying put on adult chins. We love how it combines high filtration efficiency (filtering out around 94% of 0.5-micron particles) with plenty of room to breathe, thanks to what the makers call a “parrot beak”–shaped silhouette. You must hand-wash and air-dry it, though. Due to supply issues, the mask is currently available via waitlist only. A new design, called the Happy Masks Ultra, is machine-washable. We plan on testing it soon.
This stylish mask has good clearance off the nose and mouth and—thanks to a sewn-in filter—decent filtration efficiency. You can choose between adjustable headbands and ear loops, both of which provide a good fit.
The updated version of Proper Cloth’s The Everyday Mask has enhanced pleating, to further lift the fabric off your face. It also has a sewn-in filter layer, which performed fairly well in lab tests we commissioned for filtration efficiency and breathability (filtering 75% of 0.5-micron particles). It’s the dressiest-looking of our filter-incorporated picks. However, the material feels thicker and less breathable than that of the filter-incorporated Enro and Happy Masks Pro.
This mask tents up over the nose and mouth, more so than most cloth masks. So the fabric doesn’t get in the way of breathing or talking. Its filter (removable and sold separately) boosts filtration, providing additional protection against incoming and outgoing particles.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $22.
Darts on the sides of the pre-shrunk, two-ply cotton-twill Graf Lantz Zenbu Organic Cotton Face Mask keep the silhouette somewhat puffed (so there’s more breathing room) and slightly expandable (so you can open your mouth wide without the mask slipping). The nose-bridge wire on this mask—like that on the Kitsbow Face Mask—strikes a nice balance between rigid and pliable, creating a great seal. Used with its filter (sold separately), the Graf Lantz mask provides moderate filtration, assuming a good fit, but feels heavier than our picks from Enro and Happy Masks. We also wish the filter covered the entire mask, to maximize its filtration potential.
Stuffed with its associated filter, this mask—with sturdy elastic around-the-head bands—fit our testers comfortably and performed moderately well in independent lab tests for filtration and breathability.
The solid-color versions of the two-ply Kitsbow Face Mask are made of a substantive cotton canvas. The plaids are made of a lighter performance fabric, which is used in the cycling apparel this company is known for. The cone mask’s elastic headbands stay put on hair better than most; combined with the pliable nose-bridge wire (which is about as sturdy as that of the Graf Lantz mask) and a choice of three mask sizes, they provide a nice, close fit. This mask comes with two filters, and Kitsbow’s filters (unlike those of most mask-and-filter combinations we’ve seen) span the entire area of the mask, maximizing their filtration potential. In independent lab testing, the solid-color mask filtered better than the plaid version, but the plaid mask was more breathable. Neither version feels as light as our filter-incorporated Enro and Happy Masks picks, though.