They only offer a high level of protection against infection with the corona virus if they fit snugly. But that is exactly the problem with many FFP2 masks, a test shows. In it, only one of the ten masks is fully recommended. What does this mean for users?

FFP2 masks from various manufacturers performed mixed in a study by Stiftung Warentest. While there were no complaints about the filter performance of the materials, the testers complained about the fit of a majority of the ten masks tested – and about the breathing comfort of three masks.

For their investigation, the foundation first measured comfort when exhaling using a type of “artificial lung” and a sensor, as the test report states. With three masks, the resistance measured was so great that breathing was difficult. They were therefore rated as “unsuitable” because older and weakened people in particular could have problems as a result.

Of the ten masks in the test, only one mask is recommended without restriction. This is the 3M 9320 (view on Amazon). These fit well, are comfortable and also protect effectively.

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Note: Stiftung Warentest last updated the test in July 2021. It is possible that some suppliers have changed their masks or introduced a new range. So pay close attention to the designations.

Because breathing through well-fitting FFP2 masks is generally more difficult compared to surgical masks, the advice is to take regular mask breaks anyway. The German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) advises a maximum of 75 minutes of wearing time – then a half-hour mask break should be taken.

Some experts, such as the hygienist Peter Walger, find the use of FFP2 masks by the elderly and the weak, who already find it difficult to breathe, generally questionable.

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The seven masks that passed the breathing comfort test were then tested by Stiftung Warentest in a “test chamber with aqueous, harmless aerosols”. According to the testers, the subjects had different face shapes and had to perform various everyday movements in the chamber.

The fit of the mask and thus the so-called total leakage should be tested – i.e. how many tiny particles flow through the material of the mask and also through possible gaps between the mask and the face of the wearer.

According to the professional association for health service and welfare, the corresponding standard DIN EN 149 for FFP2 masks stipulates that on average eight out of ten wearers are allowed to flow past or through the mask with a maximum of eight percent of the aerosols. In the investigation by Stiftung Warentest, only one mask met this requirement – it was the only one rated as fully suitable.

This test result underpins an important piece of advice that was already in place: If you want to wear an FFP2 mask to protect yourself and others from possible infection with the corona virus, you should make sure that it fits properly – and if in doubt, choose a different model try with a different fit.

Because even a small leak through which the breathing air flows can enormously reduce the filter performance of the FFP2 mask. The mask fits well if the fabric pulls towards the mouth when you breathe in and puffs up when you breathe out.

The Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine also sees the possible incorrect use of FFP masks by the wearer as a problem: they generally welcome the recommendation to wear these masks in the population. However, one sees the problem that insufficient protection is achieved through incorrect handling and a poor fit.

“Therefore, the population needs to be more educated on how to wear the masks,” the professional society concluded in a statement at the end of January 2021.

FFP2 masks must comply with the EN 149:2001 standard and have a CE mark and a four-digit number printed on them. The number provides information about the test center.

By the way, good news from the study is that none of the ten tested masks, which cost between around one and seven euros each, contained questionable pollutants.

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