While Beijing’s weather these last few weeks has often been spectacularly clear, the general trend still has frequent AQI spikes over 200, thus triggering my personal cutoff to wear a protective mask during my bike commute to work. I’ve blogged many times about air pollution masks and how 3M’s N95 series was (and is) my personal gold-standard, but 3M’s masks remain very non-consumer friendly, designed for construction workers and not consumers. Last year Totobobo came to China, which I generally liked and discussed in my review. Now there’s another new consumer-oriented mask called Vogmask, started by a group in the super-green enclave of Santa Cruz, California. You can read all their company specs here at their website, but the gist is that they claim to have “the world’s first good looking filtering face mask.” They carry two types, with their flagship models made of a high-tech non-woven microfiber which is officially tested to filter 99% of non-oily particles larger than 1 microgram. They also have a series of cotton masks which are supposedly more comfortable in hotter weather but aren’t specifically rated against pollution (the data isn’t finished yet). They have a bunch of different models and styles and sent me a few to check out, so here’s my report.
The Alien Factor: I still have serious aesthetic issues with Respro’s Darth Vader-ish bike masks and I know they will never be mass sellers. But Vogmask does very well here, in fact better than any other brand as they have six different styles. I got very few stares with this mask on the Beijing streets — which I take as a good thing.
Comfort: The Vogmask definitely gets high marks for being the most ergonomically comfortable mask I’ve tried. Plus, I was happy to find no sharp lines on my face after wearing, which every other mask causes to a certain degree (including the Totobobo plastic). I also far prefer their around-the-ear loops to behind-the-head straps which many other N95 masks have.
Does It Work? I think the microfiber masks definitely were doing something: in fact, a few times I struggled to pull in enough air as the filtration was so strong. But most of the time my breathing was fine and I did sense cleaner air. However, I don’t think the seal around it is nearly as tight as Totobobo’s plastic or a good 3M hard mask; so the real-world effectiveness is hard to tell but would be hard to match Totobobo’s 99%. However, there is no fit-testing data available to make true comparisons — yet.
Reusablity: Vogmask gets good marks as both of their models can be washed multiple times with no loss of fabric quality. Totobobo also is good that way, as you can pop out and replace their white filters many times.
Price: Each mask sells on their website for USD $20, which seems quite reasonable as you can wash multiple times. This is very competitive with Totobobo, which lists ast USD $23-25, not including new filter packs.
Bottom Line: I would love to see real world fit-test data on the masks, especially the cotton ones, as I’m sure the actual filtration isn’t 99% as some air comes around the edges. Totobobo does have this data and proved over 99% filtration.
But Vogmask definitely is extremely comfortable and has a wide selection of patterns, so I think many consumers could appreciate these. These would also double in the winter as face-warming kouzhao 口罩 with far better air pollution protection than the usual regular cotton.