Best reusable face masks
Face coverings have quickly become an everyday essential, but our research shows that the type you buy matters, as they vary significantly in effectiveness.
We tested 15 reusable fabric face coverings from a range of high street and online brands - as well as the UK government-recommended homemade face covering design - to find out how well they filter bacterial particles.
We also assessed how breathable and comfortable they are to wear, and how they stand up to repeated use and washing.
The best face coverings did a good job of blocking particles and were easy to breathe through too. But we also uncovered some poor one-layer face coverings that blocked as little as 7% of particles from penetrating the mask.
Below are the full results of our first comparative lab test of face coverings, including the ones we recommend.
Which? recommended face coverings
These face coverings offer the best balance of filtration efficiency and breathability.
They are Which? Best Buys – our top-scoring products that we recommend.
NEQI Reusable Face Masks, £15 for three (£5 per mask)
Which? score: 81%
This simple, fabric face covering impressed in our tests.
The three-layer construction did a good job in our bacterial filtration tests, capturing 80% of particles on the first test and 72% after five washes. Our testers also found it easy to breathe in and comfortable to wear with minimal gaps.
It's available in kids, small/medium and large to suit different face sizes, and two colour options. The mix of cotton, polyester and a touch of elastane (spandex) means this face covering is soft, comfortable and a little stretchy.
The instructions are quite limited and they’re only on the packet, so take a look at it before you throw it out.
At the time of writing, these masks are widely available: you can pick them up from and . A pack of three costs £15 (£5 per mask), which is pretty good value, and means you can have spares to hand when one is in the wash.
Bags of Ethics Great British Designers Face Coverings, £15 for three (£5 per mask)
Which? score: 80%
For something a little more colourful, these tightly woven cotton sateen pleated masks come in a pack of three, with one striking design each from Halpern, Mulberry and Raeburn.
They did well when filtering particles - managing 72% of particles on the first test, 73% after five washes - while also being some of the most breathable we looked at. The trade-off is that they are double-layered, not triple.
A nose wire allows you to create a snug fit, but the elastic ear loops are the attach-and-adjust variety – like a bra strap – and can be a bit fiddly to get right.
You get two protective cloth pouches in the pack to store your used mask in while out and about before washing it, which is handy.
The manufacturer says the masks are good for 50 uses before recycling, so a pack of three will last around five months. Profits from the sale of these face coverings go to charity.
Full face covering test results
Our tests show that some reusable face coverings do a really good job of filtering particles, while being easy to breathe through. But others struggle to get the balance right.
Face coverings that received the lowest filtration scores are labelled 'Don't Buys.' We recommend you avoid these products.
What the companies say
We shared our results with the manufacturers or retailers of the three Don't Buy face masks.
Termin8 and Superdrug (the retailer of the Etiquette mask) disputed our findings and said that their masks conform to government guidelines for fabric face coverings and that the guidance doesn’t require them to have bacterial filtration.
Asda has pulled its face covering from sale as a result of our findings.
The overall test score for each mask ignores price, and is based on:
- 70% Key performance tests (bacterial filtration and breathability)
- 30% User assessments around fit, comfort and ease of use.
Face coverings had to do well on both filtration and breathability to become a Best Buy, and their performance both before and after five wash cycles was taken into account.
The Don’t Buys were those that scored lowest on filtration, both pre and post-washing.
Face covering durability
All the reusable face coverings we tested fared well for ease of cleaning and durability. They survived multiple washes without showing signs of wear, and the ear loops and nose wires coped with repeat wears with no breakages.
How we test face coverings
Video guide: Which? face mask tests
In this first ever UK test of reusable face coverings, we wanted to establish which masks were most effective at blocking particles from escaping - the essential job of a face covering - but also easy to breathe through and how comfortable they are, as otherwise you would quickly tire of wearing them.
We also wanted to check how well reusable coverings stood up to regular use and washing, and if filtration efficiency was affected over time.
Our results reveal both how functional a mask is in terms of blocking particles from penetrating the material, and how comfortable it is to wear day to day.
Bacterial filtration efficiency
This key test determines how effective a face mask is at blocking particles.
Tiny bacterial particles (three micrometres in diameter) are shot through the face covering via an aerosol generator at a flow rate of 28 litres per minute.
Filtration efficiency is measured based on the percentage of colony forming units of bacteria that were able to pass through the face covering. This is the same test used to assess surgical masks for efficiency.
We found huge discrepancies in how well face coverings were able to filter bacterial particles.
'The best face coverings were able to filter more than 99% of particles, while the worst only managed a paltry 7%'
In order to pass the test, face coverings had to achieve at least 70% filtration efficiency.
We repeated the filtration tests after the masks had been through the wash five times, and gave equal weighting to the pre- and post-wash filtration score.
Interestingly, filtration efficiency improved after five washes for 11 of the face coverings, caused by fibres compressing during the wash.
The largest improvement was an increase from 7% filtration to 27%, but most only improved marginally. However, bear in mind that over a longer period of time it's possible the fabric will wear and become slightly less effective. So if your mask is starting to look worn out it's time to replace it.
Filtering coronavirus particles
It should be noted that coronavirus particles can be much smaller (as little as 0.1 micrometre in diameter), so what we are measuring is not the face covering’s ability to protect against coronavirus, per se.
Face coverings are not medical devices and aren't designed to block all particles down to these ultra-fine particles, like a higher-grade medical respirator mask would.
But measuring bacterial filtration efficiency allows us to get an idea of how well face coverings provide a barrier for particles, using bacteria as a proxy.
Like basic disposable surgical masks, reusable face coverings are intended to help block larger droplets and aerosols emitting from the wearer, who may be asymptomatic.
This helps to create community protection by minimising exhalation of virus particles, which would be contained in these larger droplets and aerosols.
You’re more likely to wear your mask properly if you can breathe comfortably.
To find out how easy or hard it will be to breathe in a face covering, we measure the pressure required to draw air through the mask at a rate of eight litres per minute.
We also repeated breathability tests after five washes. For most masks, the breathability scores decreased after repeated washing, likely due to the same fibre shrinkage effect that made them better at filtration.
For all but one mask, the change wasn't significant.
Head harness strength
Three people with different head shapes and sizes put each of the coverings on and then took them off again 80 times to simulate a month’s worth of wear, looking for signs of damage.
Breaking head straps is a common complaint we've noticed with disposable masks, but it doesn't seem to be a significant issue with reusable ones. No damage was reported to any of the coverings during this test.
Cleaning and shrinkage
We washed each face covering five times at 60°C, or at the temperature recommended by the manufacturer, looking for damage each time.
Again, all of the products passed this test. Any shrinkage was minimal and not enough to affect the fit.
Ease of use
Our three assessors checked a range of ease of use measures, including:
- How easy it is to put the face coverings on and take them off
- How they felt to wear: looking for tightness, gaps and ease of adjustment.
- Comfort while talking
- If they will make your glasses fog up.
We checked how clear and comprehensive the instructions were, including the presence of warnings about them not being medical-grade PPE, as well as instructions on how to wear and wash them properly.
More than half of the masks failed on our requirements for clear and comprehensive instructions. Seven out of the 13 (excluding the homemade masks) lacked important warnings about proper use.
There are some voluntary standards for manufacturers advising on what needs to be on the packaging of face coverings, but clearly there's room for improvement.
How we selected face coverings to test
We looked to include a range of face coverings made of different materials, numbers of layers and designs (eg pleated, molded, with filter, kids sizes available), to see which were most effective and comfortable.
We also aimed to cover a range of price points, widely available products in high street retailers, and some high-profile online-only brands.
At the time of testing, there were a lot of issues with models being sold out, so some models we would like to have tested weren't available for this round of tests.
Why we’ve released our full test results to the public
Our full product test results and recommendations are usually only available to Which? members, but we’re making our reusable face coverings results free to everyone as we believe it’s important to share this information for the benefit of wider public health.
We are working with consumer organisations across the world to pool our face covering research insights and make them available for all, in order to aid the global fight against COVID-19.
We are completely independent and our work is funded by Which? members, who enable us to continue running independent product tests to uncover the best - and worst - products, and campaign on behalf of all consumers in the UK.
Why reusable masks?
Reusable masks aren’t required to conform to specific standards like disposable masks are, although there is a voluntary standard in place.
Our test, the first comparative test of its kind in the UK, reveals that there are significant differences in effectiveness between reusable masks and that the best can be as effective as a disposable version.
The more of us who are wearing effective reusable face coverings, the better we are all protected, while also helping to reduce waste caused by disposable masks.
What about disposable face masks?
We’ve focused on testing reusable face coverings as this is a new market, with only voluntary standards in place, and wide variation in style and design, and a lack of insight into the best construction.
It's therefore difficult for people to know which ones are the most effective.
Reusable face coverings are also the government recommended option for the general public, and are more sustainable, affordable and practical for everyday use than disposable surgical masks.
*Product testing and scientific analysis led by Matt Stevens, Sophie Katanchian and Kamisha Darroux