Pollution Mask Review: I Can Breathe!

NOTE: As of 2014 I no longer consider this a first line choice against air pollution in China after further research and my own testing here

 

What’s the best air pollution mask for China? Here’s yet another question I am constantly asked. My previous articles have discussed the pros and cons of models such as 3M, Totobobo and Vogmask. But there are quite a few other brands out there, including I Can Breathe! models from the USA. I was sent a sample of their Active Sports mask to test out in Beijing, and I used it during my bike commutes to work at my clinic in CBD. Here is my report.

I Can Breathe! air pollution mask PM2.5One very good thing about I Can Breathe! is that they have actual proof of real-world effectiveness. Many mask companies have done tests showing their their fabric stops 95% or more of PM2.5 — but if the fit on the face is poor, then all of that leaking air makes it worthless. That’s why quantitative fit test results are key for any masks. And this is why I really like Totobobo, 3M and Vogmask because they’ve proven they work better than 95% in real life — on someone’s face. I Can Breathe! also has these fit test results, which they detail on their website here. The test results are great: 99% effective against particle sizes of 1 micron (PM1.0), which are even smaller than PM2.5.

Here are my findings:

Comfort: Very comfortable mesh fabric, one of the best I’ve tried. Plus, the adjustable straps go around the ears which I always find to be much more comfortable and practical than behind the head.
Air Leaking: I did notice a bit of smell and air sometimes, so it didn’t feel quite as snug as 3M or Totobobo.
Fog Factor: very little fogging of my glasses
Stinky Factor: Pretty good. It dries quickly and your mouth isn’t resting on the fabric.
Hipness: Not bad at all! Different colors and models
Filters: the replaceable filter is a bit difficult to switch out the exhalation valve, but it’s tolerable. I think exhalation valves are key to keeping moisture out of the mask when engaged in heavy activity such as jogging and biking.
Kid Friendly: No, I don’t see specific children’s sizes here
Reusability: The outer mesh is washable many times, and you buy filter inserts
Bottom Line: This is a very good, comfortable mask for adults during leisure and sports, with proof of effectiveness. It’s definitely one of my favorite reusable masks.

You can buy the I Can Breathe! masks in China from their Taobao store.


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16 thoughts on “Pollution Mask Review: I Can Breathe!”

  1. Hi, thanks, looks good and the price is right too! Tell me, can Respro filters work in these? (the photo looks awfully similar to the Respro innards). Or, for those of us who don’t speak Chinese, do any of

  2. I have a 4 month old baby. On days where the pollution level is high, we keep her indoors where we have a Blueair purifier. However, if we do need to go out with her on days with high pollution levels, what are our options? Can a baby wear a face mask? If so, which one? If not, any advice?

    1. I also have an almost 4 month old baby! Unfortunately there is no mask that can fit his face, so we are definitely wary of taking him outside at all if the AQI is over 200. I discuss kid’s masks in this month’s BeijingKids…but fear not because relief is soon at hand. The Vogmask company starting July 1 will have new kids size masks, even for infants — and they have fit test results that show they actually work in real life! Exciting news, the first truly effective children’s mask …

    2. I also have an almost 4 month old baby! Unfortunately there is no mask that can fit his face, so we are definitely wary of taking him outside at all if the AQI is over 200. I discuss kid’s masks in this month’s BeijingKids…but fear not because relief is soon at hand. The Vogmask company starting July 1 will have new kids size masks, even for infants — and they have fit test results that show they actually work in real life! Exciting news, the first truly effective children’s mask …

      1. Thanks! I will check out your article in BeijingKids. That is great news about the kids size masks by Vogmask. When those become available, I’ll definitely purchase one for my girl (I’m wondering how uncomfortable she will find it though…). What times would you have a baby wear the mask? Only if out and about when the AQI is over 200? Under 200? What is a good rule of thumb?

      2. I personally think over 200 is an absolute must. Honestly anything over 100, even 50 still isn’t ideal for anyone’s lungs. Singapore this week is panicking over their 108 AQI, and a few months ago Fukuoka parents were frightened over a ~74 AQI. Salt Lake City a couple months ago was freaking out over a ~120. In all cases, people were having some symptoms and wearing masks was helping. Don’t forget the Beijing DAILY AVERAGE is over 100…

      3. I personally think over 200 is an absolute must. Honestly anything over 100, even 50 still isn’t ideal for anyone’s lungs. Singapore this week is panicking over their 108 AQI, and a few months ago Fukuoka parents were frightened over a ~74 AQI. Salt Lake City a couple months ago was freaking out over a ~120. In all cases, people were having some symptoms and wearing masks was helping. Don’t forget the Beijing DAILY AVERAGE is over 100…

      4. Yep. It’s truly shocking here (been here 8 years myself and it feels that this year is the worst yet).

  3. I used to run a lot back in the US, and I am hoping that if I get a good mask, I can keep that up in Beijing. Do you have any suggestions on what masks are best for sports?

    1. Other people can chime in here, but I think for sports you wouldn’t want one that sits on the mouth as it would just get sweaty quickly. So the harder shells would be good, like any hard 3M, or Totobobo. But most likely you’ll need to experiment with a few versions. You also may benefit from masks with exhalation valves, to let out the steam.

  4. I have been in Beijing 3 of the past 5 weeks. I purchased the I Can Breathe mask in the U.S but find it totally useless for my ILD in the extreme pollution we have been experiencing. The ugly industrial certified mask works much more effectively. Perhaps you would consider recommending the I Can Breathe masks for spring allergies and asthma at 150 AQI and less.

    1. Stay tuned — I am just starting a fundraising campaign to independently test them and all the other popular brands. Hopefully, with assistance from everyone, we will all soon have real data about which masks really work!

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