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To prevent coronavirus transmission, face masks are going to be with us for some time to come. In many places, they are mandatory accessories in any public place. While some stores and restaurants will offer disposable face masks, these aren’t safely recyclable and end up as trash or litter. A reusable face mask that can be easily and regularly washed is a more eco-friendly—and stylish—choice. You’ll also be more likely to find a fabric and fit that is comfortable for you if you test some reusable options.
This list includes face masks only—no bandanas, neck gaiters, or funky scarves. That’s for two reasons: One, other face coverings may be less effective at containing virus particles than a properly fitting face mask. And two, many places require masks that fit snugly over the nose and mouth and exclude other types of face coverings.
Note that these masks are not medical-grade and are not intended for use by medical professionals; all are meant to be worn by the general public to prevent and minimize COVID-19 transmission. Whenever possible, and especially inside, keep a distance of 6 feet or more from people around you—wearing a mask doesn’t mean it’s OK to get closer. And keep washing those hands in warm water with soap for 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer that is designed to kill viruses (not just bacteria). Ahead, the best (and most eco-friendly) reusable face masks.
United by Blue hits the eco-friendly trifecta. The three-pack is budget-friendly and made from deadstock fabrics including organic cotton, hemp, and recycled polyester. For every pack sold, a mask is donated to Chosen 300, which helps Philadelphia residents experiencing homelessness. In addition, the mission-driven company removes a pound of trash from the world's oceans and waterways for every product sold.
With a super-simple modern black design, Buck Mason’s poly/rayon blend face masks have an inner layer treated with an anti-microbial coating that the brand says will last up to 30 wash cycles. Buck Mason aims to donate a million masks to those in need via its one-for-one “Masks for America” project. So far, the brand has donated over 750,000 masks, which come in a package of five.
Collina Strada’s fanciful face masks are expensive. But when you buy one, you’ll be ensuring three more go to Seeding Sovereignty, an Indigenous womxn-led collective that works to empower Indigenous communities in their coronavirus response. The masks are made in NYC from colorful deadstock materials and include a pocket to insert a filter into.
Available in two sizes and three colors, every purchase of an Eileen Fisher mask gets one to an essential worker in need. Made in Irvington, New York, from superlight and breathable organic handkerchief linen, the fabric is made from French flax grown without harmful chemicals.
Read More: Which Fabrics Are Most Sustainable?
These masks come in a five-pack, making them the least expensive option that still had eco bona fides we found. Made from two layers of organic cotton and including a filter pouch, these masks are made in Los Angeles and only come in all-black, but they still have a bit of a style edge with a low-key smiley face on one side.
Read More: Which is Greener: Cotton or Wool?
Tonlé masks come in two sizes, which means you can get a more precise fit for your particular face. Masks are made in Tonlé's own Cambodian workshops, where workers get fair wages, benefits, vacation, free lunch, training, and team retreats.
Fabric comes from remnants from larger manufacturers, which the ethical fashion company typically uses to make incredible jackets and other clothes as one of the world’s first zero-waste fashion companies. Tonlé masks, which come in packs of five, are lined with organic cotton t-shirt jersey, the fabric recommended by the CDC for non-medical masks (it’s just the right thickness and weave—plus it’s nice and soft).
Those with sensitive skin might want to try a silk mask—but a single layer of silk wouldn’t be enough protection against virus particles, which is why Ravella’s mask has three layers of silk as well as a pocket for a removable filter. Silk is naturally biodegradable, and this OEKO-TEX-certified silk is made without toxic chemicals in monitored facilities dedicated to minimal waste. Twenty percent of proceeds from the masks is donated to a charity of choice (you get to choose when you order if you want to benefit women’s empowerment, social justice, or healthcare workers).
How to Wear a Face Mask
For complete instructions, check out the mask-wearing instructions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). If a mask is truly uncomfortable to wear, you should try a different style or fabric. But some minor discomfort is inherent to mask-wearing and is easy to get used to, just like wearing a belt or a bra is for the first few days. Once you put your face mask on, try not to touch it. If you do, wash your hands or sanitize them. Be especially careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth when you take it off, and wash your hands after you do.
A note on fit: A face mask should cover your mouth and nose and fit snugly against the sides of your face. It should be comfortable enough to wear for long periods (so, no pulling so tightly across the bridge of your nose or behind your ears that rubbing causes redness).
How to Wash a Face Mask
The CDC recommends either adding masks into your normal wash cycle and washing with detergent, or washing them by hand in a bleach solution, detailed here. To dry, either place outside—preferably in the sunlight—or in the dryer. It’s important to ensure the mask is completely dry before storing or reusing it.
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Starre Vartan has been covering sustainable consumer products for 15 years, 10 of those with Treehugger (under the MNN brand). She’s also a science writer who has covered biotech, astrobiology, animals, women’s health, and space for a variety of publications including Scientific American and National Geographic.