How to buy face masks, according to medical experts

Shopping for face masks? We consulted medical experts on how to shop for face masks and rounded up those adhering to the CDC's guidelines.
Image: Young mother putting on surgical mask for little daughter in the playground to prevent the spread of cold and flu and viruses
There are numerous companies making and selling face masks online. If you're shopping for your own face mask, we've compiled those face masks whose listed features and materials adhere to the CDC's criteria on what you should be looking for, as well as to guidances from medical experts we consulted. d3sign / Getty Images
By Hanna Horvath

Our editors independently selected these items because we think you will enjoy them and might like them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. Learn more about Shop TODAY.

Editor’s note: As we will report below, experts agree that face masks do not replace or relieve the need to wash your hands and social distance, and absolutely do not alone prevent the spread of COVID-19. This article will be updated regularly to include new face masks that meet our criteria for inclusion.

In this article

  1. Should you get a face mask?
  2. How to shop for the best face masks
  3. Where to shop face masks giving back to relief efforts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans last month to wear face masks while in public to minimize the spread of COVID-19 — guidance which seems to grow more popular each day: JetBlue is now requiring passengers to wear face masks. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring anyone in the state must wear a face mask if they can’t socially distance. And Costco now requires shoppers wear face coverings.

In response, many clothing retailers and brands have turned to creating and selling their take on cloth masks to the public. If you’re looking for places to shop for masks, we consulted experts on how to buy the best face mask for your needs. Some clothing companies are pursuing an additional element of good with their face mask offering, donating to relief funds or donating personal protective equipment to healthcare workers. We’ve rounded up some of those brands using their resources to give back.

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Cloth masks should not give wearers the confidence to ignore social distancing

John-Martin Lowe, PhD, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Should you get a face mask?

The CDC has advised wearing a cloth face covering for those out in public spaces, like grocery stores and pharmacies, where it could be hard to properly socially distance. While the CDC recommends wearing a face mask, experts agree that cloth face masks do not replace the need for washing hands or social distancing, and they absolutely do not alone prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most cloth masks will work to help prevent the spread of droplets that the wearer is emitting, explains John-Martin Lowe, PhD, the assistant vice chancellor for interprofessional health security training and education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It can help reduce the chance of infecting others if you’re sick, and will not fully protect you from contracting the virus from someone else.

“Cloth masks should not give wearers the confidence to ignore social distancing,” said Lowe, adding, “If you’re sick or have an infection and don’t know it, the virus will hopefully be reduced by you wearing a mask.”

Some types of masks, specifically N95 or surgical masks, which offer the most protection and are highly in demand, should be reserved for health care workers who are most exposed to infected patients, according to the CDC.

How to shop for the best face masks

In guiding the proper way to wear a face mask or "cloth face covering," the CDC outlined five criteria:

  1. They must fit snugly (but comfortably) against your face
  2. They must be secured with ties or ear loops
  3. They must include multiple layers of fabric
  4. They must allow for breathing without restriction
  5. They must be washable without damage or shape change

The cloth does matter, and different types of cloth definitely make a difference.

John-Martin Lowe, PhD, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Interprofessional Health Security Training and Education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center

If you’re shopping for a cloth mask, pay attention to its fabric, advises Scott Segal, MD, MHCM, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Segal led a recent, peer-reviewed study which tested the effectiveness of different fabrics in filtering out particles. The study found that filtration effectiveness ranged widely — from five to 80 percent — depending on the type of fabric used. “The cloth does matter, and different types of cloth definitely make a difference,” Segal said.

  • The most effective design, according to the study, was a dual-layer mask, which included both a heavyweight cotton layer and a lighter cotton or silk layer.
  • Tightly-bound fabric, including 600-thread count cotton, also performed well, said Segal.
  • Poor performers in the study: single-layer masks and double-layer masks of lightweight, low-thread count cotton.
  • The study also found that gaps around the edges of a mask — which could be the result of a mask not fitting right — can account for a 60-percent decrease in filtration efficiency.

“Some of these cloth items being sold are focused only on the decorative or artistic aspect,” Segal said. “You need to think about the effectiveness and the public health aspect of it. We don’t want people to think just any material is enough and give them a false sense of security.”

Some masks also allow for the ability to insert an additional filter, like a high efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter. HEPA filters are designed to clear out at least 99.7 percent of particulates that are 0.3 microns or larger in size. For reference, a micron, or micrometer, is about one twenty-five thousandth of an inch and designated with an μm. That can add an additional layer of filtration, said Segal.

Additionally, shoppers should look for masks that can be easily washed and are comfortable, said Anna Davies, a research facilitator who previously worked in the Infectious Diseases department at the University of Cambridge. “If you can’t breathe through it very well, you’re not going to want to wear it very long. And air takes the path of least resistance so it’ll just bypass the material and go out the sides,” she said. “The wearer shouldn’t be touching their mask once on, so ideally a soft fabric is good.”

While shopping for a face mask, here’s the bottom line: Comfort, washability and dual-filtration is key. But above all else, keep practicing social distancing, washing your hands and other precautions, no matter what type of mask you have on.

Where to shop face masks giving back to relief efforts

There are numerous companies making and selling face masks online. If you're shopping for your own face mask, we've compiled those face masks whose listed features and materials adhere to the CDC's criteria on what you should be looking for, as well as to the expert guidance we share above. On top of that, we narrowed the options down to only those brands who say they plan to give back a portion of their supply or proceeds to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Anthropologie Reusable Face Mask (pre-order, ships June 5)

The company is selling a variety of patterned face masks, which are made from cotton and machine washable. Each mask comes with an adjustable metal nose bridge for a more snug and comfortable fit.

2. Avocado Green Mattress Organic Cotton Face Mask

The maker of eco-friendly mattresses is making 100-percent organic cotton fabric face masks available in packs of four. They can additionally allow for a separate filter to be inserted. The brand has so far made more than 130,000 non-medical grade masks, and will be donating on percent of sales to the EcoHealth Alliance.

3. Banana Republic Microfiber Face Mask for a Cause

Banana Republic is offering washable masks made from stretchy microfiber, a combination of polyester and spandex. The popular product previously sold out in minutes last week, but is back in stock, a spokesperson told NBC News. The retailer is donating $10 for every face mask purchased to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund, a nonprofit supporting kids and families in need.

4. Buck Mason Face Mask for America

Available in packs of five, Buck Mason's masks are designed to last up to 30 wash cycles and will ship out the week of May 18th. For every mask purchased, the brand will donate one. So far, they’ve been able to donate more than 150,000 masks to healthcare workers.

5. Citizens of Humanity Cotton Mask

The clothing company has repurposed their sewing facility to produce masks for front line responders. They're also making masks available to the public, which are currently on pre-order. The masks are machine-washable and are double-layered with cotton fabrics — you can get them in packs of five.

6. Disney Cloth Face Masks (pre-order, ships July 29)

Disney is selling packs of four masks, available for pre-order. These washable cloth masks come in dozens of designs, including Star Wars characters, Disney Princesses and Marvel characters. The company is also donating one million face masks to families in vulnerable areas across the country, and has donated an additional $1 million in profits to MedShare, a nonprofit supporting healthcare workers.

7. Etsy Face Masks

The online retail marketplace has reported a spike in sellers making and selling non-medical face masks — “face mask” was the most searched term on the website in the past two weeks, according to a company spokesperson. Etsy has since rounded up those shops with quality options and fast shipping. They are also prohibiting sellers from making medical claims, selling mass-produced masks or price-gouging. Since the marketplace includes multiple sellers, keep an eye out for masks that follow the CDC’s guidelines we shared above.

8. Hedley & Bennett The Wake Up & Fight Mask

These reusable masks come in plenty of different styles and are designed to be used with a filter, such as a HEPA filter, inserted within the fabric. The masks were developed with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and are one-size-fits-most. Each purchase provides a mask for you and a donation of one for a frontline worker

9. Juene Otte Ikat Face Mask

The brand is selling 100-percent cotton, reusable face masks, which include elastic bands for a snugger fit. The masks are machine-washable but the company recommends hand washing them for a longer lifetime. For every mask purchased, the company is donating one to frontline workers.

10. Lucky Brand Pleated Cotton Face Mask

The popular denim retailer is selling packs of five pleated cotton masks. The masks are machine-washable and come in different patterns. For each pack of masks sold, Lucky Brand is donating to one of their community partners: The Shower of Hope, Project Ropa, The People Concern, Delivering Good, and Urban Alchemy.

11. Madewell Non-Medical Face Masks

These simple, monochrome masks come in packs of three and are made out of three layers of cotton, from leftover clothing scraps. The mask allows for an individual filter, like a HEPA filter, to be inserted into the mask. In addition, Madewell and J.Crew have donated 75,000 single-use face masks to Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

12. Michael Stars Mask and Face Covering

The fashion company is producing cloth masks in packs of two. The reusable 100-percent cotton masks are made with a double layer of fabric. The company is also participating in the LA Protects program, which helps to produce face masks for those in need in Los Angeles.

13. New Republic Cotton Face Mask (pre-order, ships May 26)

The company has pivoted to create cotton face masks in packs of three. For every mask sold, the company will donate a mask to those in need in the Los Angeles community, specifically the West Los Angeles Hospital and local senior centers. The masks are made with 100-percent cotton and are machine washable.

14. Old Navy Triple-Layer Cloth Face Masks (pre-order, ships June 16)

Old Navy is selling cloth masks in five-packs in different sizes for kids and parents, sporting different patterns including colorful camo and stripes. The masks are 100-percent cotton, made entirely from excess fabric used in their factories, and machine washable. The company said they plan to donate 50,000 masks to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and, additionally, supply face masks to health care workers.

15. Onzie Mindful Mask

The company is creating non-medical, reusable face masks using up-cycled fabrics. Onzie has additionally donated thousands of masks to local hospitals in Los Angeles and will donate proceeds from every purchase to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. They are also a member of LA Protects.

16. Outdoor Voices OV Face Mask (pre-order, ships mid May)

The athletic brand is selling packs of five reusable masks, made with their signature Textured Compression material. The company is also donating 100 percent of proceeds from mask sales to Direct Relief, a nonprofit providing personal protective equipment and essential medical items to health workers.

17. Paige The Mask

Paige is selling 100-percent cotton, washable face masks which include fabric tie straps. They come in packs of four. For every pack of masks sold, Paige will donate a pack to be distributed to those on the frontlines. The company has donated over 5,000 masks to various charities through their partnership with LA Protects, including the St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and Ronald McDonald House.

18. Parachute Face Masks (pre-order, ships June 4)

The bedding and home goods retailer has masks available for pre-order, made with the same material as their bedding, which are 100-percent cotton. For each set of five face masks, one set will be donated through Baby2Baby and The Bowery Mission. The masks are machine-washable and come in a number of colors.

19. Rag & Bone The Stealth Mask (pre-order, ships June 4)

The clothing retailer is selling washable masks made out of a cotton-blend material and designed to look like denim. The company is also donating $5 of every purchase to City Harvest, a nonprofit organization that helps feed families in need.

20. Rails Non-Medical Mask

Rails has paused production to produce packs of five non-medical grade cotton masks that are reusable, machine-washable and made with assorted fabrics, including cotton. For every pack purchased, the company will donate a pack to essential workers in need in Los Angeles. Additionally, the company is donating 10,000 medical-grade masks to hospitals in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans and Detroit.

21. Reformation 5X Mask

The sustainable fashion brand Reformation has partnered with LA Protects, an initiative created to produce five million non-medical grade masks for community members. The company is also separately selling packs of five face masks for donation for communities in need (including essential workers). Their cloth masks are reusable with ties and come in different prints.

22. Skims Seamless Face Mask

Kim Kardashian West’s clothing company is selling their own face mask, made with nylon and spandex. The masks are machine washable and come in neutral colors. The company is also donating $1 million and 10,000 facemasks across four different charities: Good + Foundation, L.A. Regional Food Bank, Baby 2 Baby's Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund and National Domestic Workers Alliance's Coronavirus Care Fund.

23. Vera Bradley Cotton Face Mask (out of stock, available May 19)

These masks sport Vera Bradley’s iconic paisley print and are made up of two layers of 100-percent cotton. The masks are machine washable and come with adjustable straps. Through May 31, Vera Bradley will donate five percent of mask sales to the Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses.

24. Vida Protective Mask

Each protective mask is made of two layers of 100-percent cotton, with adjustable straps and a multi-layer filter. Masks are sold individually or in a multi-pack. In addition, the company has pledged to donate 10 percent of profits from the sale to SF-Marin Food Bank and Food Bank NYC.

25. Uncommon Goods Rainbow Face Coverings

The online marketplace is selling machine-washable rainbow face masks in packs of two, made from two-layers cotton. The brand says 100 percent of profits from face mask sales go to NYC Health + Hospitals.

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