How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?
Disposable face masks. Photo:

Disposable face masks are now readily available to buy, including in supermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience stores. Some people find them more lightweight and convenient than reusable cloth masks.

But as a single-use product, they pose a significant threat to the environment and the costs can really add up over time. They are usually made of several layers of a type of polypropylene and either flat or pleated, often with a built-in nose wire. They tend to have simple elastic straps that go around the ears or head.

How do disposable face masks work?

In general, both disposable and reusable style face masks typically work in three ways:

  1. They protect those around the wearer. They prevent virus particles from going out into the air, decreasing the chance that someone infected with Covid will pass the virus on to another person, explained Carl Fichtenbaum, MD, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
  2. They help shield what the wearer breathes in. Face masks also block some particles from coming to some extent.
  3. They keep wearers from touching their mouths. Masks help prevent wearers from touching a contaminated surface and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth, said Jay Woody, MD, chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and a co-founder of Legacy ER & Urgent Care.

Disposable face mask types

Surgical/medical masks

How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?

Surgical Face Mask. Photo:

Surgical or medical face masks are single-use disposable products, usually sold in boxes of 50 or more, but they can also be found in smaller packs these days in high street stores and pharmacies. They tend to be blue, rectangular, and pleated, with elastic ear straps and a nose wire. They come in three different levels of filtration: Type I bacteria filtering > 95%, blocks exhalation of larger respiratory droplets Type II bacteria filtering > 98%, blocks exhalation of larger respiratory droplets Type IIR bacteria filtering > 98%, blocks exhalation of larger respiratory droplets and is splash resistant

Respirator masks

How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?

Respirator masks, including FFP2, FFP3, and N95 masks (picture above) are closer-fitting masks designed to protect the wearer against the inhalation of both larger droplets and fine aerosol particles. These need to be properly fit-tested to be effective, are more expensive, and aren't really necessary for everyday use by the public. They are designed for medical workers working in areas with a higher risk of infection, such as those in close contact with people who have highly infectious illnesses.

Valved/dust masks

How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?

Hardware stores sell these masks, meant for DIY and construction jobs to protect you from dust and other potentially harmful particles. The problem with these from a public health perspective is that the valve (which makes it more comfortable to breathe) filters what you breathe in, but not what you breathe out – defeating the purpose of protecting others. This means they aren't a suitable face covering for limiting the spread of the virus.

Where can you buy disposable face masks?

Disposable masks are now widely available, with most pharmacies, supermarkets, newsagents, and corner shops stocking them, along with reusable masks.

According to, in America, they were available at Boots, LloydsPharmacy, Co-op Pharmacy, and Superdrug, as well as Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, and Tesco to name just a few. You're also likely to see disposable masks at places like WH Smiths and other newsagents and convenience stores, especially in transport hubs due to mask-wearing requirements on public transport.

NBC News suggests that before buying a box of disposable face masks, here’s what medical experts recommend you keep in mind:
  • Remember the difference between medical-grade face masks and non-medical masks to ensure you’re grabbing the right one for your specific needs.
  • Non-medical masks come in different layer options. You want one that is at least two-ply but three-ply is ideal.
  • If possible, look out for masks that have an inner lining with moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial properties.
  • Look for an adjustable nose piece. This clip or wire will help keep particles in when you breathe, cough, or sneeze — it can also help keep glasses from fogging.
  • If you throw on the disposable face mask and it doesn’t fit right, find a different option. You want one that fits closely to the nose, mouth, and chin comfortably. And if it starts to slip, it’s not the right mask for you because, among other things, the movement tempts wearers to touch it and their face, which can potentially spread the virus.
  • Don’t sweat price points too much. More expensive disposable face masks don’t guarantee better protection.

Disposable face masks cost

It depends on the pack size, as this ranges significantly from packs of four to 200, at pharmacies and in the thousands on online marketplaces.

Broadly, the price per mask works out at about 35p in the largest bulk packs (some retailers are selling 300-piece bundles). You'll pay more for a smaller pack - around 80p per mask. At the supermarkets, packs of between four and 10 will cost you about £2 to £3, reported

Best disposable face masks

Based on guidance Spy got from medical experts, here are some of the best medical face masks:

1. Modenna Blue Disposable Face Mask 50-Pack

How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?
Photo: Amazon

This is your standard 50-pack of the classic blue disposable face mask design. These are 3-ply and made with a polypropylene filtration layer for protection. They’re one size fits all and available in 50-mask and 25-mask packs.

2. N95 Mask Co KN95 Face Mask

How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?

Both De-Lin and Vermund say that essential workers like teachers, grocery store clerks, and bus drivers, all of whom spend long periods of time in enclosed spaces with others, should consider wearing KN95s.

N95 Mask Co also sells this surgical-style disposable mask with ear loops, designed to help eliminate gaps on the sides.

3. WeCare Kids Tie Dye Disposable Face Masks

How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?
Photo: Amazon

These adorable tie-dye disposable face masks are sized for kids and plenty colorful so little ones will actually want to wear them. They come individually wrapped so you can place one in their backpack, lunchbox, or back pocket so they won’t forget. They’re designed for a comfortable fit with lightweight breathability, and the size is adjustable along the top with a flexible metal nose clip. The inner layer is soft and gentle on the skin, while the outer layer has a high-density filter for protection.

4. Biwisy Black Disposable Face Masks

How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?

These face masks are designed to be thrown out after each use and come in a few different colors, including black. They have a nose clip for an adjustable fit and high elastic ear loops designed to not tug and stay comfortable for longer periods of time. These masks have also gone through a waterproof test and have reinforced seams for durability.

5. ZTANPS Multicolor Disposable Face Masks

How to buy the best disposable face mask for 2021?

Why pick just one color? This pack of disposable masks from ZTANPS comes with 50 masks total in five color choices — 10 pink masks, 10 purple ones, 10 yellow ones, 10 green ones, and 10 blue ones. These masks have three layers to them for effectively blocking droplets and dust. The non-woven design whisks away moisture so you stay comfortable. Each mask also has an adjustable nose bridge that can fit on your face, as well as extra-soft ear loops to eliminate pressure on the ears.

When to change a disposable face mask

Although these masks are intended to be worn once, that amount of time can be vastly different between wearers. If someone puts it on just for a quick grocery store trip, can they wear it for another short outing the next day? Or if they are wearing it for a seven-hour shift, will it hold up the entire time?

Infectious Diseases Society of America recommends throwing away a disposable mask if it becomes visibly dirty. “This is probably a situation where common sense rules — masks will become less protective once they are wet or dirty,” she said. “Using one per day is probably fine unless it's noticeably wet or dirty.”

“You can reuse disposable face masks but you must do it the right way,” said Charlop. “Be sure to take it off by the straps, put it in a safe place, and wash your hands. Wait a few days before reusing it, or put it in a paper bag and heat it with a blowdryer to kill any lurking viral particles.”

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