How do I… buy a face mask?

Fungi produce tiny spores that are very common in the environment. In certain situations, you may be exposed to high levels of spores, which can be especially dangerous for aspergillosis patients. Wearing a face mask can protect you from the risk of high exposure, especially if activities such as gardening are a favourite hobby, or even your job. Here are some of our recommendations.

What not to buy: The vast majority of masks readily available are useless at filtering out tiny fungal spores. For example, a cheap paper mask sold at your local DIY store to prevent dust inhalation is far too coarse to filter out mould spores. For this purpose, we need filters that remove particles 2 microns in diameter – these are a little harder to come by.

For everyday use: Any filter that you intend to use to prevent exposure to fungal spores must be graded as a HEPA filter. An N95 filter will remove 95% of all particles 0.3 microns in size, from air that passes through it. Fungal spores are 2-3 microns in size so an N95 filter will remove far more than 95% of fungal spores from the air, though some will still get through. This standard is generally thought to be the best combination of efficiency and cost for the average home user – such as a gardener.
In the UK and Europe the standards referred to are FFP1 (not appropriate for this purpose), FFP2 and FFP3. FFP2 is equivalent to N95 and FFP3 offers higher protection. Masks generally cost £2-3 each and are intended for single use. More expensive masks are available which can be used more than once. See 3M and Amazon for possible suppliers.

How to use correctly: These masks must be correctly fitted to work to their full potential, so be sure to follow instructions carefully. Guidelines for employers are given here and we have an illustrated guide available.
Many users find that facemasks become damp, less effective and less comfortable after an hour or so in use. More recent models of facemask have an exhale valve built into them that allows exhaled air to bypass the mask material and thus reduce dampness. Most people report that these facemasks are more comfortable for longer and are better value for money – a Moldex valved mask is pictured above.

For industrial use: Industrial users are often advised to wear a full face mask, including eye protection (to prevent eye irritation), and to use an additional filter to remove the chemical gases given off by moulds – this is mainly for people being heavily exposed to clouds of spores day after day.

Alternatives to masks: Try a scarf with an inbuilt filter from companies like Scough (pictured above) or Skotti. Just be sure to change the filter regularly.

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