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28 September 2021

Best reusable face masks and coverings

Independent Which? lab tests reveal which face coverings are best for superior filtration, breathability and comfort – plus the poor face coverings to avoid
Anna Studman

Our research shows that the type of face covering you buy matters, as they vary significantly in effectiveness.

We've tested 27 face coverings from high street and online brands to find the best options if you're in need of a new mask. 

We've found some brilliant Best Buys that filter particles effectively while still being breathable so they are comfortable to wear. But we also uncovered some poor face coverings that blocked as little as 7% of particles, which we recommend you avoid. 

As well as core performance on filtration and breathability, we assessed how comfortable and well-fitting the masks are, and how they stand up to repeated use and washing.

Find out more about reusable face covering types, features and using tips in our face mask buying guide.

Which? recommended face coverings

These Best Buy face coverings offer the best balance of filtration efficiency and breathability, and scored highest overall in our tests.

Airpop Pocket Mask, £24.99 for 4 (£6.25 per mask)

Which? score 94%

This hybrid ‘semi-reusable’ mask is made from three layers of spunbound, non-woven polyester and nylon, similar to disposable masks. It has a foam nose bridge and a collapsible design.

It's superb at filtering particles – 99.9% before washing, and 94% after five washes. And it’s still light and easy to breathe in.

Airpop says it can be worn for 40 hours and up to 10 washes before you need to retire it, so it is a more costly option than a fully reusable mask, but it’s a great choice for higher-risk scenarios such as crowded places or public transport. 

Pack instructions are minimal, although the Airpop website has comprehensive use and washing information. You can also buy a small case to carry the mask in (£10).

The Airpop Pocket comes in white and black, and there is an Airpop kids' mask which is similar but smaller, and comes in white, blue and pink.

They're available at Airpop and Amazon.

Are they recyclable? We checked with Wilko - which has launched a trial drop-off scheme for recycling disposable masks in some stores - and it told us the Airpop masks could be recycled via this scheme.

Superdrug Reusable Cotton Face Coverings, £4.99 for 3 (£1.66 per mask)

Which? score 86%

These deceptively simple budget-friendly masks really impressed in our tests. They’re 100% cotton, very breathable and our testers gave them glowing reviews for comfort while wearing.

They have a filter pocket, so you can insert a disposable filter to increase filtration further. This is something you may wish to do once you’ve washed and used them a few times – after five washes, we found the filtration efficiency dropped from an impressive 85% to a more average 72%. 

But with three in the pack, they are a cost-effective and reliable option. You can choose from the more understated white, grey and black, or opt for a pack containing pink, aqua and white masks. 

They're available at Superdrug.

The Big Silk face mask, £16.90 for 1

Which? score 85%

Silk masks are pricey but have a dedicated following, helped by their presence on many a celebrity face. 

Our first silk mask on test shows they aren't just a pretty covering though - this Big Silk mask scored well enough to be a Best Buy.

Its filtration abilities are good, if a little lower than some of our other top picks, although it improved after washing (73% before, 79% after).

There are advantages to silk – it’s meant to be gentler on your skin as it’s less occlusive than other fabrics, and it’s hydrophobic so it repels water droplets. Plus, this is our most breathable Best Buy.

It's got a little more pizzaz than your average mask, handy for smarter occasions. Our testers found it pleasant to wear, and it's adjustable with ear loops and a nose wire. It also comes in a range of muted colours including black, grey, green, pink and cream. Bear in mind that the brand suggests you wash this mask by hand.

You can find it on The Big Silk website.

Marks and Spencer reusable jersey face coverings, £9.50 for 5 (£1.90 per mask)

Which? score 82%

These affordable Marks and Spencer masks, sold in a handy five-pack, are made of three layers of a thick cotton/elastane blend. They use peppermint oil as an antibacterial agent.

They do the job well while still being comfortable to breathe through, which is why they are a top pick. Out of the packet, they're able to filter 86% of tiny particles, and 79% after five washes. 

They're not adjustable, so may not suit everyone: one of our panel of testers said this mask was too small for their face, but for the others it was considered well-fitting and comfortable.

They're available at Marks and Spencer.

NEQI Reusable Face Masks, £10 for three (£3.33 per mask)

Which? score: 81%

This simple, fabric face covering impressed in our tests.

The triple-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 NEQI, Boots and Ocado. A pack of three typically costs £15 (£5 per mask), although we've spotted them for £10 at Ocado.

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 (or a bundle of six for £30), 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 masks we looked at.

A nose wire allows you to create a snug fit, but the adjustable ear loops 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.

These masks also come in a pack of three for £15. At the time of writing, they're also widely available: you can find them at Boots (where they're currently down to £10), Sainsbury's, Waitrose and direct from Bags of Ethics.

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. 

Masks are marked down for poor breathability as this can create a build-up of moisture which then affects filtration (see How We Test, below the table).

Face coverings that received the lowest filtration scores are labelled 'Don't Buys.' We recommend you avoid these products. Results ordered from high to low.

Face coveringFiltration efficiencyBreathabilityInstructionsEase of useScore

Airpop Pocket mask
Typical price £24.99 for four (£6.25 per mask)
94%
This mask was the best at filtration in our tests. It filtered 99.9% of particles before washing and 94% after five washes. It's 'semi-reusable,' meaning it has to be disposed of after 10 washes or 40 hours of use, but it's an impressive halfway point between a reusable and disposable face covering - a good one for times when you want a bit more reassurance. There's a kids' version of the mask too.

Layers 3 // Filter pocket No // Attachment type Ear loops // Nose wire No // Size adjustable No // Glasses-compatible 3.5/5 // Max lifetime Up to 10 washes, 40 hours total // Where to buy Airpop
Superdrug reusable cotton face coverings
Typical price £4.99 for three (£1.67 per mask)
Filtration efficiencyBreathabilityInstructionsEase of useScore
86%
Our best value Best Buy, these cheap pleated cotton masks from Superdrug managed to filter 85% of particles before washing, but we'd recommend using the filter pocket to add a disposable filter after washing a few times, as filtration efficiency did wane slightly after five washes. Our testers said these were comfortable to wear, and easy to breathe in.

Layers 2 // Filter pocket Yes // Attachment type Ear loops // Nose wire No // Size adjustable Yes // Glasses-compatible 5/5 // Max Lifetime not stated // Where to buy Superdrug
The Big Silk face mask
Typical price £16.90
Filtration efficiencyBreathabilityInstructionsEase of useScore
85%

Score breakdown

The overall test score for each mask ignores price, and is based on:

  • 70% Key performance tests (filtration efficiency and breathability pre and post washing)
  • 30% User assessments around fit, comfort and ease of use.

Face coverings had to do well on both filtration and breathability to become Best Buys, 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.

How we test face coverings

Video guide: Which? face mask tests

Our tests uncover which masks are most effective at blocking particles from escaping - the essential job of a face covering - but are also easy to breathe through, well-fitting and comfortable.

A good fit and breathable design is important for the overall effectiveness of the product. If your face covering doesn't fit well, air can escape through gaps, or moisture will build up if it's not breathable. 

This can affect filtration efficiency as the mask becomes damp from your breath, and will also mean you quickly tire of wearing it, or feel the need to constantly adjust the fit.

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, the industry standard for assessing mask filtration efficiency, determines how effective a face mask is at blocking particles, using bacteria as a proxy. This is the same test used to assess surgical masks for efficiency.

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. 

In our tests, we found huge discrepancies in how well face coverings were able to filter bacterial particles.

'The best face coverings were able to filter 99.9% 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 half of the face coverings we tested, likely to be 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. 

Some state a maximum number of washes or wears before you should replace the mask.

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, as 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.

Breathability

You’re more likely to wear your mask properly if you can breathe comfortably. 

We all want face coverings that can filter out as many germs as possible, but breathability is crucial too. 

Some materials offer very high filtration, but do not allow for the flow of air. This makes it harder to breathe, but can also cause more moisture build-up as your exhalations condense (due to the temperature difference between the ambient air and the air trapped by the face covering).

This can lead to your face covering becoming damp, which reduces the filtration efficiency. This is why we only give top scores to face coverings which get the balance right.

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. Many masks got slightly lower breathability scores after repeated washing, which could be due to fibre shrinkage, but the change was only significant for one of the masks. 

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, apart from the Vita Shield where the material started to fray slightly after repeated putting on and removing.

Cleaning and shrinkage

We washed each face covering five times at 60°C, or using the temperature / method specified by the manufacturer, looking for damage each time. 

Again, all 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

Instructions 

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.

The first time we tested face masks we were disappointed with the quality of instructions, and it's a shame to see the situation hasn't changed with the latest round of tests.

In all, more than half the masks failed on our requirements for clear and comprehensive instructions. 14 out of the 27 (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.

See our face covering usage guide for advice on wearing and washing your mask properly. 

Glasses compatibility

One of our testers rated each mask for how comfortable it was to wear with glasses and whether their glasses steamed up while wearing it.

Ultimately, glasses and masks don't mix - so none of the options are a magic solution for spectacle-wearers. But some are much better than others. 

The Big Silk and Superdrug were our two Best Buys that were least likely to steam up - along with the Lloyd's, AB Mask, and Asos mask.

The Big Silk, Airpop and Superdrug were the Best Buys that were rated 5/5 for comfort while wearing glasses.

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.

In our second round of tests (May 2021), we included newer-style 'semi-reusable' face coverings, and ones with higher-spec filtration claims and antimicrobial properties.

Although we didn't test the effectiveness of the antimicrobial coatings specifically, you can find out more about these coatings and their claims in our guide to anti-viral face masks.

We also aimed to cover a range of prices, widely available products in high street retailers, and some high-profile online-only brands. 

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.

You can support Which? and our not-for-profit mission by becoming a Which? member. We have no owners, shareholders or government departments to answer to and we're not influenced by third parties. 

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 test 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 tests, the first comparative tests of their kind in the UK, reveal there are significant differences in effectiveness between reusable masks. The best can be as effective as a disposable version, but the worst are nearly useless.

We’ve been helping to develop tighter and clearer industry standards for non-medical face coverings in the UK, which set out a minimum limit on filtration efficiency to be independently verified, and mandate a common set of instructions and warnings to be displayed on each pack.

The more of us who are wearing effective reusable face coverings, the better we are all protected, while also helping 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, so there's a wide variation in style and design, and a lack of insight into the best construction. 

In our latest tests we've included a few 'semi-reusable' options, which claim to have high filtration levels like a disposable mask but can be washed and reused a few times before you need to get rid of them. But these also have varying results.

It's therefore difficult for people to know which ones are the most effective.

Reusable face coverings are the government-recommended option for the public, and are generally more sustainable, affordable and practical for everyday use than disposable surgical masks.

There are situations where you might opt for a disposable mask, though. Find out more in our disposable face masks buying guide. And if your reusable mask is looking tired or worn, it will need to be replaced.

Don't Buy face coverings - what the companies say

We shared our results with the manufacturers or retailers of the five Don't Buy face masks.

Adidas told us its mask was designed early on in the pandemic, before there was an industry standard for non-medical face coverings, and that its mask was tested for comfort and breathability.

The Vita Group said its face covering had been tested at external accredited testing facilities which showed filtration levels of more than 90%. 

It said that the discrepancies in results demonstrate the need for mandatory overarching standards to be put in place. We have been in discussion with the Vita Group and we are working together to understand each other's findings.

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 pulled its face covering from sale as a result of our findings.


Product testing and scientific analysis team: Matt Stevens, Sophie Katanchian and Kamisha Darroux