Face masks have been scientifically proven to protect you from viruses while also keeping you from spreading any diseases to other people. But with so many types of masks in the market, it’s hard to know which one works best. Regardless of which type you choose, wearing any type of face-covering will reduce your exposure to the amount of illness-causing germ particles in the air as opposed to not wearing anything at all. But if you want to get the best protection for you and your family, here’s a handy guide to determine which face mask is the most effective.

Three-layer surgical mask

Three-layer surgical masks are disposable face coverings that protect your mouth and nose from contact with germs and filter out large to medium disease particles floating in the air, but not small particles. This is the kind of mask a medical professional in a health clinic or a drive-thru testing site might wear. These masks can effectively block droplets that come from an infected person, but the amount of protection you as a wearer get from it varies widely. Thus, it’s recommended to wear them while running daily errands or taking a walk outside, but not for occasions where you’re in close contact with other people for a lengthy amount of time.

Fitted N95 Mask

Fitted N95 masks without an exhalation valve are, so far, the most effective face coverings. It’s worn tightly around the nose and the mouth and can block over 95% of small germ particles from entering and exiting the mask, protecting both you and the people around you. Due to its efficacy, it’s provided to first responders and health care workers. The public is discouraged from stocking up on this type of mask as it’s currently in short supply, and reserved for those who need it most.

face mask and tissue roll

Gas Masks

Gas masks are capable of filtering gases and particles in the air. It’s not commonly used by healthcare professionals, and it’s most often found on people working with dangerous chemicals or debris. The CDC doesn’t recommend this as an appropriate face covering to protect you from illness-causing airborne particles.

Air-Purifying Respirator

An air-purifying respirator is used primarily by firefighters and rescue workers as it enables them to breathe in clean air while doing their job in precarious circumstances. Like the N95 mask, the wider public is discouraged from purchasing this type of face covering, unless you have a legitimate respiratory issue or breathing problem that prohibits you from wearing any other kind of face mask. This type of apparatus is in limited supply and is much more useful to those who actually need it.

Reusable Cloth Masks

Reusable cloth masks can be washed and worn multiple times. They’re able to reduce your exposure to disease-causing droplets while also blocking particles from being released when talking, coughing, or sneezing. It’s important to purchase masks that are snugly fit and made out of two or more layers of tightly-woven fabric such as cotton. Bandannas and face gaiters are not recommended cloth face coverings.

There are plenty of face coverings available in the market, but it’s important to purchase and wear the ones that will actually effectively do what it’s supposed to. This guide will help you narrow down your choices.