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PEHSU Factsheet: Masks to Protect Children and Pregnant People from Wildfire Smoke > What are some different types of masks to use?

What are some different types of masks to use?

posted on Jul 27, 2021

NIOSH-approved masks will reduce the amount of smoke that your child breathes, especially if
they seal (fit well) to the face. This type of mask is specifically made to filter things like smoke and is called a respirator.

  • Look for masks labeled as “NIOSH N95”.
    • NIOSH is the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the government branch that protects workers.
    • Masks that say ‘NIOSH N95’ have material that blocks nearly all smoke particles.
  • For example, pretend there are 1000 smoke particles in the air near your child. If your child is not wearing a mask, they will breathe in all 1000 particles. If they are wearing a NIOSH N95 with a good seal, they will breathe only 100 particles. If there are gaps around the face, nose, or chin they will breathe many more particles.
  • Check the seal of the mask by cupping your hands around the edges on your child’s face. First, have the child blow out hard, as if they are blowing birthday candles, and feel for air leaking around the mask. Then, have the child take a deep breath in. You should see the mask suck toward the face and should not feel air flow around the edges. Pregnant people should also follow this guidance.
    • Some masks have valves. You may feel air come out of the valve, but no air should go in through the valve. N95s with or without a valve will protect you from wildfire smoke.
  • Even if there are small gaps when your child wears an N95, the N95 is still the best protection from smoke.
  • N95s are not made specifically for children in the US, but children aged 7 and older may be able to wear small or extra small adult-sized masks.
  • Dirty, torn, wet, or crumpled N95s should be thrown away.

Medical (or surgical) face masks usually have gaps between their edges and the face. Although
this type of mask does not work as well as an N95, and is not specifically made for protecting from smoke, some models may help protect your child from smoke.

  • In the example above, if there are 1000 smoke particles in the air near your child and they are wearing a medical mask, they will breathe in 700-800 particles. The bigger the gaps between their face and the mask, the more they will breathe in.
  • Medical masks come in adult and child sizes. Choose the type that best fits the child’s face.

Cloth face masks or coverings, which help decrease the spread of infections (such as COVID-
19), usually do not reduce exposure to wildfire smoke and air pollution. Therefore, these kinds of masks are not recommended for protection from wildfire smoke.