How To Mask Good: or how I learned to stop whining and love the KN/N95

I need to vent my spleen. I have seen far too many FRC participants wearing their masks improperly or not at all, and I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. Quite frankly I find it disturbing and upsetting. We’ve all been in a pandemic for over two years now, we all know how to wear a mask properly. Pleading ignorance at this point is asinine. I will skip the selfish and ignorant excuses I have heard and focus on the reasons that can be addressed with logic.

Why on earth should you listen to me?
Masking and respiratory protection has been a personal and professional responsibility of mine for over a decade. These include:
N95 for welding/grinding/demolition
Full-face respirator for handling bromine, hydrochloric acid, and other battery chemicals
ISO Class 6 and 4 cleanroom garments (which includes a facemask/balaclava)

I have worked 8-12 hours days, sometimes doing manual labor, in all of the above protective equipment (uphill both ways in the snow with my tuba, I know). Occasionally without any environmental controls like AC or dehumidifiers. Sometimes outside or in a welding shop that was 80-90°F. Yeah, I know, it sucks. But there are things you can do to make it suck less.

  1. Leave the cloth masks at home. Cloth masks were a great stop-gap in the early pandemic when other masks were not available to the general public. Cloth masks are deficient in many areas: cloth isn’t a purpose-made filter media, they rub against your face and lips, and they are flimsy enough to pull up against your mouth during inhalation, causing extra breathing restrictions. I do not like wearing cloth masks.

  2. Surgical masks are pretty darn good. Surgeons wear these for hours on end to protect their patients during surgery where infection risks are tremendous. However, operating theaters also have staggeringly great HVAC and environmental control to keep the air clean, so it is not as if surgical masks are a silver bullet by themselves. What they do have going for them is: a wire around the nose bridge to aid in sealing, material designed to be a good filter media for respiration products, and a general design to be worn comfortably for extended periods.

I still find them to be uncomfortable after extended times. If I have any stubble it tends to ‘fuzz up’ the mask material and tickle or itch my face. Going clean-shaven helps these masks a lot, as does face lotion and chapstick if you find the mask sliding against your skin a lot. They are also the easiest to speak through, which many find valuable. My youngest daughter has cochlear implants, so I use surgical masks when I need to wear a mask around her.

  1. Full-face respirators and 3/4 respirators are effective ONLY if they filter exhalants in addition to inhalants. This design is exceedingly rare, but available if you hunt for them. I only wear these styles when absolutely necessary. They tend to muffle your voice the most of any mask, require daily cleaning, and the cartridges can be expensive and require replacement at regular intervals. I use these in extreme situations: handling battery chemicals and ‘thermal events,’ particularly nasty demolition, and such. I would not recommend them as a practical solution for COVID. You also need to be clean-shaven for them to work at peak efficiency.

  2. KN/N95 masks (without an exhalation valve) are the best all-around solution for COVID, particularly when you need to wear safety glasses. They have a soft foam nose-bridge seal, keeping your glasses clear. They are formed to not contact most of your face, keeping irritation down, and have more filter area than cloth or surgical masks, reducing restriction on breathing. They protect both the user of the mask and those around them. They can be reused (after drying out/waiting for any viruses to die) and can even be cleaned if you have the right equipment.

Now, why do people skip wearing a mask?

Wearing a mask hurts my face!
You might be wearing a size that’s too small or have straps that are too tight. Revisit that choice, see about headbands or strap holders to improve comfort. If you have a big ol’ melony noggin like me: go for the over-head and/or behind-neck straps. Those are the best IMO, especially since your ears won’t have to deal with glasses AND mask straps. As I mentioned earlier: lotion, chapstick, and even athletic tape (electrical tape works in a pinch) can help reduce chaffing and improve comfort.

Wearing a mask makes my glasses fog up!
That means your mask isn’t doing its job because it is not sealed well. Full stop. COVID viruses are transported in microscopic water droplets, and those are what are condensing on your glasses, meaning the mask is not catching them. There are several solutions: wear a KN/N95, the nose seal with stop this leakage; tape the top edge of your mask to your face, athletic tape will stop leakage in this area; apply anti-fogging treatment to your glasses, there are plenty of wipes that work, or even a dry-rub of dish soap can do wonders (although not as good as sealing up your mask of course).

Wearing a mask makes it harder to breathe!
Yeah, it kinda does. But if you spend a little time focusing on breathing through the mask, and replacing it when it gets too moist, you will do okay. KN/N95 helps here too: the masks shape keeps it from getting sucked up against your face, letting you use the whole filtration area even when breathing hard. Your mask will plug up over time, especially with moisture, making it more restrictive to breathe through. Changing your mask a couple times over the day will mitigate this and keep you breathing easier.

I sympathize with the discomfort of wearing a mask. I wish we did not have to. But COVID is not over yet. People are still being hospitalized and dying from infections, some of which would have been prevented by wearing a mask (properly). Give the above a careful and thoughtful read and consider how you can mitigate your own discomfort while still protecting yourself and those around you.


But James…

Aren’t KN95 masks not made to any standard and just cheap cloth?

Won’t I increase my chance of getting carbon dioxide poisoning from wearing a mask all day?

What about sarcasm? How will you be able to tell if I’m smirking?



We all know when your being sarcastic… No need to worry there.


If the sides of your mask don’t noticeably suck in when you are taking a normal breath, then the mask you are wearing is not effective, and you should consider a N95 one with a good fit.

If you have a beard - sorry folks - it’s gotta go. (Ask me how I know…). Cloth masks are better than nothing, but they really are ‘safety theater’.

My only consolation at this point is that we’ve been going through this for years - and the people who have learned this stuff are already doing it. The people who aren’t doing it - probably won’t learn. Keep up the good fight James.


Haha. I know you’re asking these facetiously, but I suspect some people don’t know the answers.

Not real KN95s, but there are knockoffs of every other product ever made, and masks are no exception. Buying from a reputable source will reduce your risk of buying a fake.

No. KN95s filter to about 0.3µm and a CO2 molecule is 0.00033µm in diameter. Trapping CO2 with a mask is like trying to trap sand with a soccer net.

The dead giveaway is when I see the little ‘marshall is replying to this thread’ icon pop up at the bottom.


Cool! Thanks for clearing up my common misconceptions early so we can avoid re-hashing them for the 12th time and making the mods remove any posts.

Every now and then I like to post sarcastic and useful things just to mix it up.


Ok. The fact that you were sarcastic saying that you are sarcastic “every now and then” when we all know you’re always sarcastic is so sarcastic that I’m confused. Confused and impressed.


If only people would put their own personal comfort aside for the greater good. Coughs in mask six feet from any living being Texas

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Thank you for the advice! And wearing your mask.

Since you have expertise wearing may different styles of masks, and made the statement to stop wearing cloth masks, I would like your advice.

2 years ago (literally just before the pandemic) I had surgery on my face to remove a very large melanoma. About a 2" square was taken and a skin graft put in. (I had a wonderful surgeon. It’s barely noticeable now.)

The problem is that area is still very sensitive. I wear a custom made cloth mask. (I’m a seamstress by trade) It has a wire nose bridge and a custom insert to keep it from sucking in when I breath. It can also accommodate “filters”, but they don’t actually cover across the entire mask, so I don’t know that they’re doing any good. It’s cut real low on my cheek, but still covers my nose and mouth.

So, my question is, do you have a recommendation for a better mask than the cloth one I wear? I’ve tried several N95 ones of varying sizes. I find some of the child sizes ones can fit over my mouth and nose, without bothering my face and eye, but are way too small for my head or ears. (I prefer the ears because the straps around the head get caught in my hair and clip I use to put my hair up. And I pull out my hair trying to get it untangled)

Also, I would like to thank everyone for wearing masks. (Not just because I, myself, am one of the ones at risk) When I see the community come together to protect myself and others, I feel honored to be a part of that community. Thank you.

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This is a great question. BUT, I am going to answer a slightly different question that I think is what you really want to know:

How can I comfortably wear a mask when properly-fitted mask irritate a sensitive area of skin?

Cover the sensitive area with something like athletic tape, mole skin, liquid skin, or even a band aid. I’ve even taped my feet/ankles with electrical tape or duck tape to deal with raw blisters. If you adhere something to the skin that your mask rubs the mask scuffs up the patch and not your skin.

Some products are breathable, like mole skin and some athletic tapes. They will probably be your best bet for whole-day use. If you want to experiment to see if it provides the relief you expect electrical tape or scotch tape can work for a shorter time.

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