As you prepare to travel or move to a country that has notoriously high levels of pollution (think China, India, Egypt, Pakistan and others), it’s no wonder that you’re considering a pollution mask to bring with you. Your health is a priority, which is why it’s important to know which masks are the best pollution masks at filtering out the bad particles in the air and which masks don’t live up to the marketing hype.
Anybody who has ever spent time wearing one of those disposable 3M masks while doing tasks around the house such as woodworking or painting knows that disposable masks are just that: disposable. Not to mention uncomfortable.
Aside from wanting to throw them away after one use, there are a number of other reasons why these masks don’t make good sense to take with you when you travel or move to a polluted area. As we look at what makes some of the best pollution masks worth buying and taking with you, we’ll be rating them based on very specific criteria:
- Is it Comfortable? You’re not going to want to wear an uncomfortable pollution mask.
- Is it Washable / Refillable? Pollution masks by nature gather dust and dirt. You’ll want to be able to either clean or replace the filter easily.
- Is it Effective? Of course, just because a mask looks and feels good doesn’t make it the best. It needs to be effective. Masks worth buying should be marked by either “N95” or “N99”, indicating that they filter out either 95% or 99% of the pollutants respectively.
So with these criteria in mind, let’s take a look at the best pollution masks for travelers and expats living in polluted countries like China and India – or even in your own home country! We’re going to start with a special mask for those expats who are already in China and follow that with a few options for those who want to purchase prior to their travels.
AQBlue Mask – Recommended for Expats in China
For those who have already set up roots in China, the AQblue is one of the best options available that you can purchase within the country (the remainder of the masks in this list are sold through Amazon, which is hard to get in China).
Pros | AQBlue
- Multiple sizes fit adults (large), teens (medium) and children (small)
- Breathable, quality materials = comfortable fit throughout the day
- KN95 certified (equivalent to N95) to block most dangerous particles
Cons | AQBlue
- Only available in China through Taobao, select hospitals, or direct via WeChat
Anybody who has lived in China knows that it’s not hard to find a cheap face mask at a store or on Taobao. The trickier job is finding a mask in China that actually filters out the harmful particles in the air while being comfortable and stylish (i.e. you don’t have to sport a Hello Kitty pattern).
That’s where the AQBlue mask comes in. This pollution mask uses two filter layers to clean the air and a material that is comfortable on the skin. Using WeChat, you can scan the QR code you see here to choose from different sizes and colors. If you message the company on TaoBao and tell them you heard about them here on TravelChinaCheaper, they’ll even give you 15% off your order!
Respro Techno Anti-Pollution Mask – Recommended
Pros | Respro Techno
- One of the most comfortable masks on the market
- Offers multiple sizes (medium & large)
- Velcro fastening makes for easy adjustments
- Replaceable filter inserts
Cons | Respro Techno
- A bit pricy at around US$40-$50
- Neoprene is comfortable, but does cause some people to sweat
The Respro brand offers a number of different version of their mask, but the Respro Techno tends to be the most popular because it’s the perfect blend of lightweight and proper filtration. There are a couple of colors to choose from as well as two sizes (medium and large).
If you’re a traveler, you’ll likely only need the filter that comes with the mask. However, if you’re an expat who uses the pollution mask throughout the winter, you’ll probably want to buy some of the extra filters for the mask.
Cambridge Mask Anti-Pollution Mask
Pros | Cambridge Mask
- Rated as an N99 (removes 99% of all pollutants)
- Offered in adult and children’s sizing
- Washable respirator (no new filter purchases required)
- Multiple fun colors and patterns to choose from
Cons | Cambridge Mask
- Mid-range pricing (~US$30)
- Doesn’t wrap as tightly around the face as the Respro Techno
Founded by a Cambridge University graduate (how did you guess!?), the Cambridge Masks have become so popular that you’ll likely find a number of different knock-off style masks on Amazon and other retailers. If you prefer to a fun color or style, or if you need a mask that will fit your child, these masks are a great option.
Instead of buying new filters, it’s possible to wash this mask as well as the respirator that makes the filtration possible.
Respro Ultralight – The Best Mask (but Expensive)
Pros | Respro Ultralight
- Considered the most comfortable mask on the market
- Dual valves improve air flow, a major plus for those who exercise with the mask
- Available in 3 different sizes
Cons | Respro Ultralight
- Very expensive (US$75+)
If you can’t tell, the Respro brand is one of the best mask brands available and the Respro Ultralight is the best mask they offer. It’s consistently rated as the most comfortable to wear and the dual valves provide increased air flow that is noticeable. This is particularly good for those people who need to wear a mask while exercising (running, biking, etc.).
Shengetu Pollution Mask
Pros | Shengetu Mask
- It’s cheaper (closer to US$10-$15)
- Multiple color options available
- Easy-to-replace mask filters
Cons | Shengetu Mask
- Quality isn’t as good as Respro or Cambridge masks
- One-size-fits-all doesn’t always fit well
At this point, we’re getting to a little-known brand like the Shengetu Mask that has taken the Cambridge Design and added different colors and replaceable mask filters. The quality is still good, though, and for people that want something cheaper than US$30, this works well.
You can buy additional filter inserts for the mask if needed.
Conclusion | Best Pollution Masks
As a traveler, you can probably get away with the cheaper $15 masks for a short period of time. The key is to make sure that you’re doing something to maintain healthy airflow while visiting polluted countries or cities.
As an expat, however, I suggest investing in a pollution mask that will last a bit longer and be more comfortable. The Respro masks are a great example of comfortable masks that might push your budget limits but are well-worth the extra money.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget to protect all members of your family! Children are most susceptible to the damaging effects of pollutants, so buy them a fun pattern that they’ll be excited to wear.
Stay healthy and safe travels! If you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comments below.