After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, mask mandates across the country are ending. From schools to airlines, fewer venues are requiring masks indoors. However, not everyone feels comfortable going maskless. 

Individuals with certain high-risk health conditions or those who spend time with high-risk people may feel best wearing a mask. Others simply may not be ready to shed the extra layer of protection. Whatever your reason, if you still want to mask up in certain situations, it’s a good idea to invest in well-made masks with a secure fit. 

Types of masks

There are three main types of face masks — cloth, procedure and respirator. Each one has its pros and cons. 

Cloth masks

Masks made of cloth are commonly available, and they are popular for their comfort and numerous colors, patterns and graphics. They are also reusable and washable. Early in the pandemic, cloth masks were recommended when there was a shortage of medical-grade masks. However, cloth masks aren’t as protective. 

Cloth masks are made of cotton, cotton blends, silk, polyester, nylon and other fabrics. According to the CDC, consumers who choose to wear cloth masks should opt for those made with multiple layers. And while it’s convenient that cloth masks can be reused, it’s important to wash them frequently to help reduce the spread of germs. 

Procedure masks

Also called surgical masks, this type of face covering is commonly used by medical professionals. They are disposable, lightweight, breathable and fairly comfortable to wear.

The best masks in this category are made with at least three layers of nonwoven material. Although in short supply when the pandemic began, this type of mask is readily available today. 

Respirator masks

N95 masks are classified as respirators and offer a higher level of protection than cloth or procedure masks. They are made of synthetic fibers that filter out up to 95% of particles, contaminants and germs. KN95 masks also fall into this category, as do some other respirators. 

Although disposable, this type of mask can be worn several times. The downside is that the dense material can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods. 

Over the past two years, as many as 60% of KN95 masks did not meet recommended quality standards. To ensure that a respirator will perform as intended, look for a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health certification.

Features to consider when buying a mask 

Fit

For optimal protection, a face mask should provide a snug fit without any gaps around the face. It should also completely cover the nose, mouth and chin. Even though a proper fit is important for optimal protection, it shouldn’t be so tight that it’s uncomfortable or painful to wear.  

Nose wires

Quality cloth, procedure and respirator masks have a nose wire built into the material. This small feature is important to securing a good fit and preventing glasses from fogging up, as it’s flexible and can be shaped for a precise fit around the nose. 

Layers

Ideally, a mask will be made of several layers of material for optimal protection. At least three layers are recommended, but some masks may have four, five or more. Additionally, some cloth masks have filter pockets for added protection. 

Ear loops

Most masks are secured by loops that wrap around ears. They are made of stretchy material that provides a close fit without being too tight. Some mask ear loops have small adjusters for loosening or tightening the fit. 

Masks that tie around the back of the head or neck are also available. While the fit can be customized, it’s also somewhat awkward to fasten the ties. Masks with elastic headbands are suitable for individuals whose ears are irritated by ear loops.

The best masks

Benehal NIOSH Approved N95 Mask

Benehal NIOSH Approved N95 Mask

These respirator masks have four layers of protection that meet NIOSH standards. The headband design is ideal for those who don’t like to wear ear loops. 

Sold by Amazon 

Weddingstar 3-Ply Washable Cloth Face Mask

Weddingstar 3-Ply Washable Cloth Face Mask

Although this cloth mask has three protective layers and a filter pocket, the cotton-blend material is also breathable and comfortable. The ear loops and nose wire are easy to adjust for a perfect fit. 

Sold by Amazon 

3M N95 Aura Particulate Foldable Respirator

3M N95 Aura Particulate Foldable Respirator 

Made by a top brand, these respirator masks are both lightweight and highly efficient at filtering out particulates. The three-panel construction adds to its flexibility on the face. 

Sold by Home Depot

ZIYE

ZIYE Multicolor 3-Layer Disposable Face Masks

These procedure masks stand out for their fashionable colors. They offer a comfortable fit and triple-layer protection. 

Sold by Amazon

Calabrum Disposable 4-Ply Sold Black Breathable Face Masks

Calabrum Disposable 4-Ply Sold Black Breathable Face Masks 

In addition to four layers of protection, these procedure masks provide excellent breathability. The black design is ideal for special occasions. 

Sold by Macy’s 

Herbsville 3-Layer Washable Reusable Face Mask

Herbsville 3-Layer Washable Reusable Face Mask

Three protective layers, a filter pocket and antibacterial material are included in these cloth masks’ impressive feature set. They are also reusable and washable. 

Sold by Home Depot

MagiCare 3-Ply Disposable Face Masks

MagiCare 3-Ply Disposable Face Masks

Anyone who prefers basic procedure masks in standard blue will appreciate these disposable masks. The triple-layer construction is well-made yet breathable. 

Sold by Amazon 

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Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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