Considering the global increase in pollution, allergens and unhealthy fumes, it’s no wonder that you’re considering a good pollution mask. 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…
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 packing, 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, like any filter, get dirty. The best pollution masks give you the ability 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, I’ve come up with the following ratings that you can read about further below:
- Most Comfortable Mask: Base Camp Pollution Mask
- Best Value Mask: Cambridge Pollution Mask
- Best Multi-Purpose Mask: Besungo Dust Mask
- Best Mask for China: AQBlue Pollution Mask
Now, let’s take a look more closely at these pollution masks to see what’s going to work best for you whether you’re in your home country or you’re traveling to a heavily polluted country like China or India.
Note: Some of the links in this article are Amazon affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to purchase a mask.
Base Camp Pollution Mask | Most Comfortable
If you’re looking for the most comfortable pollution mask that you can keep on for long periods of time, look no further than the Base Camp mask.
Because it straps around the head, it alleviates the pressure most pollution masks put on the ears.
Pros of Base Camp
- Rated N99 to filter 99% of all pollution, pollen, and dust;
- Comfortable nylon material that wraps around the head instead of around the ears;
- Adjustable strap allows for a customized fit;
- Replaceable filters and discharge valves;
Cons of Base Camp
- Only two color options;
- Not particularly suited for small faces;
One of the most popular pollution and dust masks is also one of the most versatile. Base Camp’s masks offer an adjustable strap to fit different-sized heads and comes with six (6) extra filters.
Each filter is supposed to last for only 20-30 hours of use (they don’t say this, but that’s the average life cycle of any air filter).
With six filters, the purchase of one Base Camp pollution mask should theoretically last for a couple months.
Cambridge Pollution Mask | Best Value
The Cambridge Mask is the cheapest option on the list here, but don’t let that fool you – it’s still good quality.
For this reason, I’ve named it the “best value” on this list of best pollution masks.
Pros | Cambridge Mask
- Rated 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
- Washable respirator still has a short shelf life;
- Wraps around the ears, which some people find to be uncomfortable;
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.
The mask and respirator are “washable”, but don’t let that marketing fool you. They won’t last forever and you’ll need to replace it eventually.
Besungo Face Masks | Best Multi-Purpose Mask
The Besungo face masks are marketed for those who are doing construction, lawn care or sanitation work, but the truth is they’re also great at blocking out pollutants.
Pros | Besungo Masks
- Comfortable mask made of premium nylon & mesh;
- Offers multiple colors to choose from;
- Velcro fastening makes for easy adjustments;
- Replaceable filters available;
Cons | Besungo Masks
- Since the mask wraps around the neck, not the head, the fit of this mask changes based on how much you move your head.
Some people prefer to have a mask like the Besungo Dust Mask that fastens at the neck (as opposed to over the ears or behind the head). If that’s you, you’ll enjoy this mask more than the others listed above.
In my experience, especially when I’m wearing a motorcycle helmet, these kinds of masks tend to slide down easily. Still, it’s a quality pollution mask that gets the job done!
AQBlue Mask – Best Pollution Mask for China
For those who have already set up roots in China, the AQblue is one of the best pollution masks 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 (see QR code below);
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 is one of the best pollution masks because it 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!
Final Thoughts | Best Pollution Mask
Sure, you can probably get away with a cheap 3M mask for a short period of time. If your long-term health is important to you, though, that just won’t do.
Even as a traveler, while you obviously want to get good travel insurance for emergencies, you also want to be preventative with a best pollution mask.
As an expat who lives in a polluted country, I suggest investing in a good pollution mask that will last a bit longer and be more comfortable.
The Base Camp Masks are a great example of comfortable masks that filter out the dust and allergens without breaking the bank.
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 out there! If you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comments below.
Mark Fielding says
I am living in Jakarta and needed something better than respro ultralight for
walking 2 hours daily.
I chose Totobobo from Singapore with the filters replaced by carbon filters (respro).
It’s Sweaty but I prefer it to my respro ultralight because it is far more airtight and light.
The respro ultralight got me pulled over by police and it is impolite to wear in small communities.
Still lo0king for something better – I saw very compact plastic respirators to cover mouth and nose only – very trendy but maybe only at design stage on youtube.
I use a folded up bandana. Carry it in a pocket, hold it to my face, when there is exhaust fumes, traffic, perfumes, insecticide. On a bus or train I fold it longways and tie it around my head, wide part 3 inches, covers mouth and nose. I put a dab of lavender oil on it to mask odors.
Josh Summers says
While that sounds great, what makes you think that the bandana helps? Perhaps if it’s damp it might attract dust particles, but for the small, truly harmful materials a bandana does nothing. If you’re worried about exhaust fumes, insecticides and pollution, you really ought to invest in a pollution mask. They’re not expensive and they’re proven to work!
A friend of mine also recommended me this banana trick. comes very handy and is Definitely cheaper than buying a mask, although I have to admit, it Feels a bit embarrassing running around with a banana covering your face. But you eventually one gets used to it 🙂 I am not sure if a banana can truly keep up with those modern day particle filters you’d Get with a mask but I still think it will do a good job blocking some of the nasty Car exhausts.
Josh Summers says
Oh good heavens…these pollutions masks are not that expensive!! Is a bandana really necessary? Haha!
Wendy Morison says
the respro mask is high quality, but it is very uncomfortable, and everyone I know who has one agrees. The main issue isn’t that it’s hot, though it is. The main problem lies with the design. It only attaches around the occipital lobe which means that it slips down. This puts pressure on the bridge of your nose, making breathing even more laboured, and it gapes at the bottom. The additional attachment strap doesn’t help. I have to constantly push or hold my mask up from the bottom while I am walking, but I mostly don’t use it. I have written to the company and even proposed a design change (diagram), and although they responded, they are not making any changes. I would neither buy nor recommend Respro masks. Someone needs to come up with a really comfortable fit because this just adds to the frustration we feel living with air pollution. (south korea)
THANKS for your review. it was really helpfull. i just bought the respro techno few days ago and what you describe about the design and that it slips down is exactly what i experienced. i thought it did not fit well because i bought a mask to big for me and i was about to bought another model from the same brand but now i won’t
Sue Kinsela says
We travel to china soon but only for 7 days plus 2 days flying.
we are staying in beijing, suzhou, wuxi & hangzhou .
Being such a short stay, is it absolutely necessary to wear a mask?
Josh Summers says
Not unless you’re really worried, Sue. If you get to China and find it’s bad, you can always buy a cheap one here, otherwise you should be fine.
Neal Raisman says
I have medical throwaway surgical masks. Can they be used for a couple week stay in China? Four days Beijing, then Xian, Guilin, Shanghai and Hoing Ko9ng. Will they work there?
Josh Summers says
You can use surgical masks, but they aren’t nearly as effective.
Living in dubai which is so polluted ALWAYS day by day top DECILE in the world. I worry about all THE poor visitors who come to EXPO 2020 in this bad air. Do you think the organisets will provide free high QUALITy face and breathing masks or should we get our OWN to be safe?
Josh Summers says
I never rely on somebody else to provide “high quality” anything. If you want quality, you buy it yourself.
I have ordered a cambridge mask after much reading, as it has 3 layers of filtration down to 0.3 microns particulate, is treated with silver which is an additional antiviral application, and because it has no replaceable filters. i am reassured by the fact that the whole mask is the filter, as opposed to being reliant on air passing just through the filter section. I don’t object to paying for a new mask every 3-6 months as i think wearing masks against pollution is the most important thing we can do for our lung health which in turn will enable our immune system to fight should it need to. The people using bandanas are gambling with the health of one of their most crucial organs for the sake of £25 ish for 3-6 months which i find staggering! Just have one fewer beer every week…
Vog masks are another good choice – i’ve been using them for around 8 years. vog stands for volcanic fog so they’re made to filter very toxic air. another plus is the variety of patterns available. there are two cons for me – the first is that they do not have replacement filters, but are instead designed to last from around three months (depending how often one uses them, this is the extreme) to one year. the second is that they go around the ears so may be uncomfortable for some, but they now sell a connector to hook around the head and its not very expensive ($8). the masks themselves are a little pricy ($33), so that could be a con for some. in thailand they last an entire pollution season so, for me, they’re worth it.