Cloth masks vs P2 masks: Which should you be wearing?
With a concerning surge in COVID-19 cases in Australia, it's time to decide which style of face mask is right for you.
Face masks established themselves early in the pandemic as an essential tool to mitigate the spread of COVID. Government advice varied significantly, but eventually settled on the idea that cloth masks are an effective and accessible option to protect yourself, your family and your community from the virus.
But with the rise of more transmissible variants such as Delta and Omicron, many experts have warned that these ubiquitous items may no longer meet the necessary standards of protection. Instead, respirators such as P2 masks have steadily grown in popularity.
Let's take a deep dive into cloth vs P2 masks to find out which is best to defend yourself and Australia at large from surging COVID cases.
What is a P2 mask?
Unfamiliar with P2 masks? While we tend to hear more about N95 and KN95 masks, P2 masks are actually the Australian standard of respirator mask and are extremely common Down Under. N95 masks are the American standard, and KN95 masks are the Chinese standard.
Beyond that, the 3 styles of mask are very similar. You can check out a full rundown of the differences between them here, but the bottom line is that all 3 filter out 94-95% of particles and are widely considered the optimal style of mask to combat the Omicron variant.
Cloth vs P2 masks: Efficacy
By far the most important factor when choosing your style of mask is to decipher which will be most effective in preventing the spread of COVID.
The answer to this question is clear. Respirator masks such as P2 masks offer a tighter fit than other kinds of masks, leading to far greater protection against the virus. Cloth masks lack layers of filtration and are too loose to offer this same level of protection.
While Australian governments have yet to come out and strongly favour respirators over other styles of face masks, many experts have. The OzSAGE Community Respirator and Mask Update Working Group, which features some of the leading experts in the field, has stated that "To minimise community transmission, cloth and surgical masks should be urgently replaced with respirators."
Data scientist Jeremy Howard told the ABC that the public should "Ditch your cloth masks and also ditch your surgical masks."
Overall, the evidence is pretty clear that if you want to do everything you can to protect yourself, your family and your community from Omicron, P2 masks are the way to go.
Cloth vs P2 masks: Reusability
While effectiveness is by far the most important factor to mull over when selecting your style of mask, there are other things to take into consideration as well.
P2 masks don't always come cheap, so throwing them out after every use can harm your wallet as well as the environment. Fortunately, experts agree this practice isn't necessary. America's Centre for Disease Control states that healthcare workers can rotate used respirator masks in paper bags.
The coronavirus is believed to survive for 72 hours, so leaving a mask in a bag for a period of a few days means it will become safe to reuse. Since this practice is considered acceptable for healthcare settings, it's definitely good enough for the public.
So you don't have to shy away from using a P2 mask just because you love washing and reusing your cloth mask. Respirators like P2 masks can be reused until they are dirty, damaged or difficult to breathe through.
Cloth vs P2 masks: Cost
When bought in bulk, P2 masks are available for approximately $1-$3 per mask. It's less common to purchase cloth masks in bulk. Purchasing individual cloth masks can vary in cost from around $6 to around $50.
Since cloth masks are easier to reuse, you'll need to look at your personal situation to assess which option is more expensive over time for you and your family. But given the greater effectiveness of P2 masks, many Australians find any additional costs well worth it.
Cloth vs P2 masks: Comfort and ease-of-use
By design, P2 masks are more constrictive than their cloth counterparts, and many users have reported finding cloth masks more comfortable to wear. But again, as we all try to fend off the Omicron winter wave, the greater efficacy of P2 masks makes it an easy trade-off.
It can be a bit tricky for novices to figure out exactly how to use a P2 mask, but following the steps listed here should make things much easier.
On the whole, any drawbacks P2 masks might have are comprehensively outweighed by the expert consensus that they are far more effective than their cloth counterparts in combatting the spread of COVID. Find out where to purchase P2 and other respirator masks below.
Where to buy masks in AustraliaEdit product set
Clinical Supplies is an Australian seller offering nationwide delivery. Deliveries are fully traceable and take 1–3 business days.
- Use code: HEALTH20 at checkout for 20% off KN95 masks
- Same day order processing
- Nation-wide shipping, from Sydney
- Have supplied hospitals, medical centres and frontline workers
- Bulk buy in packs of up to 400 masks
- TGA-, FDA- and CE-approved KN95 masks
- Fully traceable delivery (1–3 days)
Aussie Pharma Direct offers quality 100% Australian-made and owned healthcare products that meet Australian compliance standards.
- Cutting-edge nanofibre filter which filters 99.66% of airborne particulates
- P2 masks with a nanofibre filter that last longer than P2 masks
- 4 layers to help protect you against airborne viruses
- Certified P2 Aus/NZ standard AS/NZS 1716:2012 (N95 standard)
- TGA registered (ARTG #335981)
- Free shipping for orders over $50
Although Amazon doesn't stock first-class masks, similar P2 masks are available. You can find a wide range of P2 masks thanks to the variety of sellers at hand.
- Sign up to Amazon Prime and get free shipping and returns on some items
- Trusted online marketplace
- See customer ratings before buying