Because how well a mask works involves myriad factors (the size of a person’s head and facial features, their behaviors and environment), we couldn’t possibly identify the most effective mask for every person and every situation. Based on extensive research and preliminary fit and comfort testing, however, we do have a few recommendations for adjustable masks that we think will cover most faces comfortably and work well when worn properly. After all, the “best” cloth face mask is the one you will wear (and not fuss with).
Banana Republic Face Mask
Adjustable ear loops, stretchy fabric
The slim elastic ear loops on this mask are gentler on ears than most thicker varieties. Cord stoppers, a nose-bridge wire, and a swimsuit-material-like outermost layer mean this mask should mold easily to most faces. Its two-ply construction is already quite dense, but you can insert an additional layer (not included) into its filter pocket. The easy-on, easy-off design is great for quick errands, but the fabric can feel hot with extended wear.
(pack of three)
Herschel Supply Co. Classic Fitted Face Mask
Ear loops and headband options in one
This triple-layer poly-cotton mask is lingerie-material light but office-appropriate sleek. With cord stops on the ear loops, you can easily get a good fit before running out the door. You can loosen them—or even better, attach them to the enclosed back-of-the-head hook—to relieve ear pressure. An easy-access pocket in this mask accommodates a filter (not included).
Kitsbow Face Mask
Heavy and lightweight options, secure headbands
The solid-color versions of this two-ply cone mask have the substantive, tight-weave feel of cotton-canvas painter’s pants; the plaids are made of the lighter performance fabric used in the cycling apparel the company is known for. Each has a pocket for a filter (two included). The elastic headbands stay put on hair better than most, and together with the nose-bridge wire and a choice of three sizes, they allow for a nice, close fit.
Rendall Co. Sentry
Sturdy pleats, adjustable drawstrings
This all-cotton, two-layer mask feels like a denim shirt. Thanks to pleats and a spaghetti tie looped into a drawstring system, it can adjust to most heads and facial features, including those more generously sized. A filter pocket accommodates additional layers of your choice (none included), and there’s a nose-bridge wire.
Understandably, most people would prefer a mask that fits like a proverbial glove, traps all incoming and outgoing viruses, lets you gulp in fresh air with abandon, and feels as if it isn’t even there. Unfortunately, that mask doesn’t exist. Shopping for a cloth face mask is an exercise in compromises. Generally speaking, the better a mask blocks respiratory droplets, the harder it is to breathe through, said Bryan Ormond, an assistant professor of textile engineering at North Carolina State University’s Textile Protection and Comfort Center. Conversely, the easier it is to breathe through a mask, the less potentially protective it is. The best a non-medical mask can do is align closely to the curves of your face, cover your nose and mouth, and feel comfortable enough that you won’t fuss with it as you go about your day. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the latest research on cloth face coverings, help you build a collection of masks that suit your various needs, and explain how prioritizing fit and comfort can lead to better protection—for others and even, possibly, for yourself.
Above, we’ve linked to in-stock masks with design details that the experts we interviewed said they looked for when shopping for themselves, and that we found greatly impacted fit and comfort. These features include moldable nose-bridge wires; cord stoppers, adjustable headbands, or ties; and filter pockets. We’ll continue to take notes as we slog through supermarket runs and workouts in the thick heat of summer, throw the masks into the wash, and field feedback from our long-term testers and our readers. We’ll also keep searching for promising options based on the latest science and people’s evolving needs as the seasons change. As long as masks remain a staple in daily life, we’ll be here with updates.