Inexpensive cloth masks are widely used in developing countries to protect from particulate pollution albeit limited data on their efficacy exists. This study examined the efficiency of four types of masks (three types of cloth masks and one type of surgical mask) commonly worn in the developing world. Five monodispersed aerosol sphere size (30, 100, and 500 nm, and 1 and 2.5 μm) and diluted whole diesel exhaust was used to assess facemask performance. Among the three cloth mask types, a cloth mask with an exhaust valve performed best with filtration efficiency of 80–90% for the measured polystyrene latex (PSL) particle sizes. Two styles of commercially available fabric masks were the least effective with a filtration efficiency of 39–65% for PSL particles, and they performed better as the particle size increased. When the cloth masks were tested against lab-generated whole diesel particles, the filtration efficiency for three particle sizes (30, 100, and 500 nm) ranged from 15% to 57%. Standard N95 mask performance was used as a control to compare the results with cloth masks, and our results suggest that cloth masks are only marginally beneficial in protecting individuals from particles<2.5 μm. Compared with cloth masks, disposable surgical masks are more effective in reducing particulate exposure.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Environmental Science and Pollution Research Open Access 09 February 2022
Environmental Science and Pollution Research Open Access 04 March 2021
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $19.83 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Davidson C, Phalen RF, Solomon PA . Airborne particulate matter and human health: a review. Aer Sci Technol 2005; 39: 737–749.
Pope CA, III, Dockery DW . Health effects of fine particulate air pollution: Lines that connect. J Air Waste Manage Assoc 2006; 56: 709–742.
UNEP. World Health Assembly Passes Landmark Resolution on Air Pollution and Health. United Nations Environment Programme New Centre, 2015. Available at: http://www.unep.org/NewsCentre/default.aspx?DocumentID=26816&ArticleID=35060 (last accessed 25 August 2015).
Seattle Times. Businesses cashing in on China’s air pollution, 4 February 2013. Available at: http://www.seattletimes.com/nationworld/businesses-cashing-in-on-chinarsquos-air-pollution (last accessed 4 November 2015).
Climate Progress. China’s Smog Is So Bad It’s Affecting Fashion Trends, 1 November 2014. Available at: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/11/01/3587488/chinafashionweeksmogmasks/ (last accessed on 4 November 2015).
Pandit RN, Paudel DP . Health hazards due to pesticide use and its protective/preventive practice among vegetable farmers in Bhaktapur district of Nepal. J Nepal Public Health Assoc 2013; 5 –1: 13–18.
Chughtai AA, Seale H, Maclntyre CR . Use of cloth masks in the practice of infection control—Evidence and policy gaps. Int J Infect Control 2013; v9: i3; doi:10.3396/IJIC.v9i3.020.13.
Maclntyre CR, Seale H, Dung TC, Hien NT, Nga PT, Chughtai AA et al. A cluster randomized trial of cloth masks compared with medical masks in healthcare workers. BMJ Open 2015; 5: e006577.
Rengasamy S, Eimer B, Shaffer R . Simple respiratory protection—Evaluation of the filtration performance of cloth masks and common fabric materials against 20–1000 nm size particles. Ann Occup Hyg 2010; 54: 789–798.
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR). Title 42: Public Health, Part 84—Approval of Respiratory Protective Devices. Available at: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=a88cb0699d6516257a0aa2aaaf40b2b8&node=42:188.8.131.52.67&rgn=div5#42:184.108.40.206.67.6.19 (28 August 2014).
Lee SA, Grinshpun SA, Reponen T . Respiratory performance offered by N95 respirators and surgical masks: Human subject evaluation with NaCl aerosol representing bacterial and viral particle size range. An Occup Hyg 2008; 52: 177–185.
He X, Reponen T, McKay RT, Grinshpun SA . Effect of particle size on the performance of an N95 filtering facepiece respirator and a surgical mask at various breathing conditions. Aer Sci Technol 2013; 47: 1180–1187.
He X, Reponen T, McKay R, Grinshpun SA . How does breathing frequency affect the performance of an N95 filtering facepiece respirator and a surgical mask against surrogates of viral particles. J Occup Environ Hyg 2013; 11: 178–185.
Cho KJ, Jones S, Jones G, McKay R, Grinshpun SA, Dwivedi A et al. Effect of particle size on respiratory protection provided by two types of N95 respirators used in agricultural settings. J Occup Environ Hyg 2010; 7: 622–627.
Lee SA, Adhikari A, Grinshpun SA, McKay R, Shukla R, Zeigler HL et al. Respiratory protection provided by N95 filtering facepeiece respirators against airborne dust and microorganisms in agricultural farms. J Occup Environ Hyg 2005; 2: 577–585.
Kagawa J . Health effects of diesel exhaust emissions—a mixture of air pollutants of worldwide concern. Toxicology 2002; 181–182: 349–353.
Rengasamy A, Zhuang Z, BerryAnn R . Respiratory protection against bioaerosols: Literature review and research needs. Am J Inf Control 2004; 32: 345–354.
Fissan HJ, Neumann S, Schurmann G 1984 Electrostatic enhanced filtration. In: Proceedings of the First International Aerosol Conference, Minnesota, pp 17–21. In Martin Jr SBP, Moyer ES (eds). Electrostatic respirator filter media: Filter efficiency and most penetrating particle size effects, 2000. Appl Occup Environ Hyg 2000; 15: 609–617.
Brauer, Amann M, Burnett RT, Cohen A, Dentener F, Ezzati M et al. Exposure assessment for estimation of the global burden of disease attributable to outdoor air pollution. Environ Sci Technol 2012; 46: 652–660.
van Donkelaar A, Martin RV, Brauer M, Kahn R, Levy R, Verduzco C et al. Global estimates of ambient fine particulate matter concentrations from satellite-based aerosol optical depth: Development and application. Environ Health Perspect 2010; 118: 847–855.
Grinshpun SA, Haruta H, Eninger RM, Reponen T, McKay RT, Lee SA . Performance of an N95 filtering facepiece particulate respirator and a surgical mask during human breathing: Two pathways for particle penetration. J Occup Environ Hyg 2009; 6: 593–603.
Sande MV, Teunis P, Sabel R . Professional and homemade face masks reduce exposure to respiratory infections among the general population. PLoS One 2008; 3: e2618.
Balazy A, Toivola M, Adhikari A, Sivasubramani SK, Reponen T, Grinshpun SA . Do N95 respirators provide 95% protection level against airborne viruses, and how adequate are surgical masks? Am J Infect Control 2006; 34: 51–57.
Bałazy A, Toivola M, Reponen T, Podgorski A, Zimmer A, Grinshpun SA . Manikin-based performance evaluation of N95 filtering-facepiece respirators challenged with nanoparticles. Ann Occup Hyg 2006; 50: 259–269.
Eninger RM, Honda T, Adhikari A, Heinonen-Tanski H, Reponen T, Grinshpun SA . Filter performance of N99 and N95 face-piece respirators against viruses and ultrafine particles. Ann Occup Hyg 2008; 52: 385–396.
Zhuang Z, Bradtmiller B . Head-and-face anthropometric survey of US respirator users. J Occup Environ Hyg 2005; 2: 567–576.
Yu Y, Benson S, Cheng W, Hsiao J, Liu Y, Zhuang Z et al. Digital 3-D headforms representative of Chinese workers. Ann Occup Hyg 2012; 56: 113–122.
Cho KJ, Reponen T, McKay R, Shukla R, Haruta H, Sekar P et al. Large particle penetration through N95 respirator filters and face-piece leaks with cyclic flow. Ann Occup Hyg 2010; 54: 68–77.
Huang S-H, Chen C-W, Chang C-P, Lai C-Y, Chen C-C . Penetration of 4.5 nm to 10 μm aerosol particles through fibrous filters. J Aerosol Sci 2007; 38: 719–727.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
REP, AN, and KMS contributed to the design, method, and data analysis. AN, RK, and KMS performed the experiments. All authors contributed to the article.
Supplementary Information accompanies the paper on the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology website
About this article
Cite this article
Shakya, K., Noyes, A., Kallin, R. et al. Evaluating the efficacy of cloth facemasks in reducing particulate matter exposure. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 27, 352–357 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2016.42
- inhalation exposure
- particulate matter
- personal exposure
This article is cited by
Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology (2022)
Surgery Today (2022)
Environmental Science and Pollution Research (2022)
Environmental Science and Pollution Research (2022)
Distribution of ultrafine aerosols and volatile organic compounds from surgical smoke during electrocauterization
Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health (2022)