Cloth vs. Medical Masks: A Debate

By Alicia Chen

In today’s mask filled world, there has been a question hanging around the air like a bad stench. You may have thought about it, or you might not have, but nonetheless, it is still worth mentioning: cloth masks or medical masks? Of all of the people I asked this question to, a large majority said they prefer medical masks, while the others answered with cloth. Some had never even worn a medical mask.

Here’s an answer from the medical mask side:

“I prefer medical masks because they’re more breathable and that is definitely a plus when we’re required to wear masks when we play sports because cloth masks are not the most breathable.”

Someone else also said, “Medical masks because they are easier to deal with because when you’re done with them you can just throw them out and grab a new one the next day.”

Take a moment to digest that information, then read this answer from the cloth mask side:

“I definitely prefer cloth because it wastes less and is easy to clean and reuse. Plus you can make them yourself and personalize them.”

These are extremely different viewpoints and they both make strong arguments. Convenience and breathability, or customization and reusability? It’s your call which one you want to use, but here are some general facts about both of them.

Most people believe that medical masks are strictly a one time use sort of mask, but if the right steps are taken, they can certainly be reused, though not as long as you would be able to reuse a cloth mask. After using your medical mask, be sure to not touch the outside of it, as that is where all of the germs typically build up. To reuse it, people recommend placing the mask in a brown paper bag, or something else that has good ventilation to allow the mask to air out for a few days. Then bam, you’re reducing the amount of medical mask waste one mask at a time. Also, if you don’t take into account the amount of times you can reuse a cloth mask, medical masks are cheaper in many cases, as the typical cloth mask can cost from $5-$15, while a pack of 50 medical masks can be sold for $10. Though it is not really proven that medical masks offer more breathability, many do find them to be more breathable, so if you trust the perspectives of the general public and want a breathable yet affordable mask, then medical it is.

On the other hand, even if you are reusing your medical masks, it does not come close to the amount of times you can use a cloth mask, so if saving the environment and reducing waste is important to you, then a cloth mask might be your best bet. It is also important to note that even though people can make their own masks, the right materials need to be used in order for the mask to be effective. The CDC recommends using multiple layers of cotton fabric when making a face mask. Another, and arguably one of the more popular reasons why people use cloth masks is for the customization and being able to express yourself through your mask. If you make a mask, you can customize it however you want, and even if you don’t want to go through that effort, there are plenty of cloth masks options out there on the market. You can choose from millions of cool patterns, designs, and colors, to find a unique mask that will represent you.

While there are many reasons to go for either a medical mask or a cloth mask, in the end, it is important to always wear a mask when you are told to, so hopefully next year, this question will be far from our minds, and we can start worrying about non-pandemic related things again.

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