Face mask testing

In Victoria we are now urged to wear face masks but how do we tell
a) their quality
b) verified effectiveness
c) what they are made of
d) who is making them where from?

I have seen so many what I think are single use paper masks varying in price from $1 to $5. Before we waste our money or worse wear one thinking we are protected to find we are not, how do we know how good the masks are? Are any tested or certified? In one case my husband came home with some from a chemist and they were not even in plastic just put in a paper bag. Are we being sold fake masks?


It is worth reading this…

When purchasing PPE for COVID-19 (or any other reason), it is important that it is labelled that it meets the requirements/standards outlined in the above website. If not, I personally would not buy them as they could be ineffective or inappropriate for use with COVID-19.


If you want to be certain then (according to the TGA reference in @phb’s link above) use the following standard of masks:
“For the purposes of reducing exposure to COVID-19 both P2 and N95 respirators can be used interchangeably.”
Obviously, you can only be certain they meet these standards if they are certified as such, and I would suggest that they should also be in their original sealed boxes. If the masks are being sold in paper or plastic bags, then you have to assume they are just the most basic utility or surgical masks.

The medical advice I have been seeing/hearing is that even the most basic of masks, including the multilayer home made dense fibre cloth ones can be better than nothing.

I suggest that you have a read of the following article:


Thank you this was helpful. My takeaway is that broadly speaking those masks (other than surgical or N95) we buy over the counter could be described as ‘buyer beware’ as there is no standard for these. I think this information needs to be widely distributed as I fear people wearing the light paper masks are being given a false sense of security


The masks are important, but how we use them equally so.

One of the better instructive pages is, no surprise, from NZ.


I see so many ads selling masks, it’s hard to know which are good value and which are not. I bought an N95 from the chemist and the pharmacist put it in a paper bag. She recommended the N95 expensive one and said it only lasts a day - at $15! I only wore it for a half hour train trip and haven’t touched it since, so will use it again. It was fine on the train but kept slipping off when I was walking. I’d like to know where people are buying their masks from. I’m surprised they’re not on sale in supermarkets.


Unfortunately unless you are a magician, you would have touched it again when you removed the mask. Any touching of the mask or wearing can result in bacteria and virus contamination of the mask…which is why most masks are single use, disposable types. Once they are used there is potential that it is contaminated, and the risk of getting an infection increases substantially if they are reused. I personally would not take the risk of reusing disposable masks as one should treat them as being contaminated after their use, no matter how long they are worn,

Also, masks that slip off means that they are not a good fit or have not been fitted properly. The risk with a poor fitting mask is they may provide a false sense of security as aerosols containing infectious pathogens can bypass around the edge of the mask when one breathes. It is important that any mask fits well and that any breathing occurs through the good fitting mask rather than bypassing its fabric filter.

Another concern is the chemist packing the mask in a paper packet supplied by the chemist. Unless the chemist has sterile hands or implements and the paper bag are sterile, there is a risk of contamination from handling by the chemist or the consumer on its purchase. Ideally, the mask should come in a sterile packaging. … like say wads used for wounds…so that one knows that the mask is clean and uncontaminated when first using. When fitting, one also has to ensure that they have thoroughly washed hands otherwise touching of the mask without thoroughly cleaning hands increases the risk of contaminating the mask when fitting it on ones face. The mask when fitted should never be touched unless ones hands are thoroughly cleaned.

The above are reasons why masks have not been recommended for the layperson as there is potentisl that in low risk conditions, wearing a mask may in fact increase the risks of getting an infection.

Where risks are high, measures to prevent mask contamination needs to be practiced then used to ensure the mask’s effectiveness for minimising the risk of infection.

For those who are interested, this paper contains some useful infornation for those wishing to use cloth masks…

The WHO also has information about the dos and don’ts of wearing fabric and medical/single use (one day or disposable) masks…


There are numerous issues with the use of face masks which make it difficult/impractical for most users to deal with.

  1. What are you actually trying to prevent in transmission - COVID-19, other viruses, bacteria - many of which are part of a normal environment and don’t need protecting from
  2. The reasons - Are you using it to protect yourself or to protect those around you - Mask use in public is to help limit the spread of the virus from those infected to the uninfected - 60+% of people with the virus do not have symptoms, and if they use a mask they will limit the spread of the virus to others. Not the other way round.
  3. Sterile conditions - if you are trying to use them under a sterile conditions (hospital operating areas) that is fine, but in everyday use, it will not be sterile. If you are not infected, then there is a very low chance of virus particles being on your mask, you will not know & you will not be able to avoid contaminating other surfaces with it if it is there.
  4. What type of mask - I would only trust brands manufactured from Japan which has a long history of using masks in public & have stringent manufacturing standards.
  5. The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to avoid crowded areas or groups of people, keep a safe distance from people, avoid putting your unwashed hands to your eyes, mouth or nose, and wash your hands before eating or preparing food.

A DIY face mask article from Spotlight.


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CHOICE has some advice on face masks here:


The McCalls one only has 2 layers and it seems that 3 layers is recommended. Perhaps one could modify the pattern to include an extra water-resistant outer layer?

Each of the N95 masks in the box we already owned has a metal band across the top which we shape to our nose as the first thing we do after sanitiser. Do yours have that piece of flexible metal?

I absolutely love the information contained within these articles.

I would like to intimate here that this virus is an unknown!! There is no right or wrong however listening to people who are trained in better “medical knowledge” is a trust that we MUST allow ourselves to do.

The use of a mask helps a number of things. From my knowledge it helps to :

  1. Stop us from touching our face with hands that might be infected.
  2. In covering the nose and mouth stop us from breathing in pathogens at a microscopic level.(that cant be seen with the eye)
  3. Helps to create a barrier to us coughing (whether on purpose or not), therefore helping to protect us and others.

Any mask can therefore capture some pathogenic material, not only protecting us from breathing it into out body but ALSO on the mask outer surface.

If you a relying on a mask remember to keep it clean by handling it in the correct manner! AND if its re-useable wash it daily and if possible let it dry in sunlight. Otherwise the best way available to you.

A scarf / sock / piece of cloth- that has been washed ( I use hospital grade disinfectant) and correctly used and treated with some sense will do the same as a “paper mask”.

Just listen to the infectious disease specialists - all of this will help to reduce the Virus. AS to what mask, I have worn one when leaving my house all through this pandemic in Victoria. I wash it daily and I use the precautions as suggested to do so.

I don’t feel it is necessary to buy a mask ( although I did buy just x1), and so I use a winter scarf one day on and one alternate with the mask each different day. By ensuring that it is clean and making sure that I sanitise my hands before and after handling even just to move it after drying it…I believe I am safer.


I’ve been using paper masks and each time I return home I liberally spray both sides of the mask with 100% Isopropyl alcohol. Is this sufficient to sterilise a mask?

Hi @kayak, welcome to the community and interesting question. This is my thoughts…

As alcohol only works in direct contact with the virus, unless the mask was fully saturated with alcohol (which would be near impossible to do at home as one would need equipment to force alcohol into every nook and cranny), there is a high chance that any viruses trapped with the mask are still active after the surface is sprayed. Only those viruses on the surface of the mask which have direct contact with the alcohol would be denatured.

It wouldn’t sterilise all the mask and may give a false sense of security.


Saturating the mask may be more effective even if only done with a spray bottle, but it would need to get to the point of not being able to hold more liquid. That would be a lot of alcohol to render a mask maybe useful again. Seems costly to do so, so why not just use another mask, if it is the only mask they can get their hands on then treating it to that point may be the only choice they have??


There are risks of this too, as one may breath in the alcohol vapour if it isn’t fully dried.

Edit: as methylated spirits is likely to be the most common form of alcohol used in a domestic situation, it is particularly important that there is no methylated spirit residue from spraying or attempted sarurating left on the face mask as there is a high risk that vapour will be inhaled. From a MSDS for methylated spirits, the consequences are…

May cause irritation to the respiratory tract and mucous membranes. Inhalation of the vapour may result in headaches, nausea and vomiting. High concentrations may cause central nervous system symptoms similar to ‘swallowed’.

Central nervous system symptoms include

Effects may include excitation, euphoria, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, fatigue, tremors, convulsions, loss of consciousness, coma, respiratory arrest and death. Severe acute intoxication may cause hypoglycaemia, hypothermia and extensor rigidity. Other effects may include decreased blood pressure, vomiting blood, and blood changes. Aspiration into the lungs may cause pneumonitis.

it is not something which would be recommended.

Maybe one should consider thorough washing of a mask, and drying at temperatures, greater than 60°C to sterilise. This should be done in preference to using alcohol sprays.


Sure is a risk, even with saturation a person may miss some part of the mask that then harbours the virus. But if it is the only one they can get their hands on, then treating it to the best they can may be the only current choice they have.


100% opinion.

Having had some experience with many types of masks over the past two weeks my conclusion is none of them tick all the boxes in the hands of a mere mortal.

The N95 washables would need to be washed daily, sanitised every time taken off and on, and the filter replaced; the single use ones have variable air valves, some easier to breath through than others and some are larger than others. Like trying to buy clothes that fit properly.

The surgical type is for ‘surgical splashes’, eg blood, liquids, and droplets, not so much a virus. They tend to be more generously sized on average and are more comfortable as they are compliant to the face.

Single uses are roughly $1 per. Need a new one each time one ventures out or just one per day? In these times it might be best, but I doubt everyone will or could afford 7 or more masks per week moving forward. Even those who could are likely to be caught out from time to time.

Multilayer washables are all over the place. None of those I tried have snugged around my nose properly. A problem with all of them is the strip to conform to the nose is often not strong enough to do that job properly.

None fit me 100% securely although some (of each type) are better than others. Those of us with larger noses have problems those with smaller noses do not. If we wear glasses they fog as often as not unless the top edge is well sealed - not always so easy to accomplish. Some of them fit OK when the ear straps are Very Snug but not so well if not Very Snug. Wear hearing aids? They can make it difficult to get the ear straps snug and in plane to get the mask right.

Close enough might not be good enough to stop the virus, but it is likely what most of us achieve most of the time.

Conclusion. Make your best effort and if your chosen mask seals reasonably well around the edges, in a practical sense it is probably (my opinion) going to do the best job for ‘you’ that can be expected as an imperfect human, unless you are paranoid about each and every on-off-sanitise-wash every time, never to be missed.

So testing? I doubt it would be a test of more than the filtration and mask material for permeability and protection afforded by the materials. ‘Testing’ fit? Each of us is different. Testing seal around the face? Each of us has a different facial shape beyond round, square, oval, and so on. Beyond a buyers guide I am not sure how to test for consumers in a meaningful way would be easy or possible.

A bit cynical? But that is where I am.