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Posted: August 7th, 2023

Comparative Analysis of Surgical Masks and Cloth Masks in Controlling Respiratory Infections

Surgical masks versus cloths mask?

Comparative Analysis of Surgical Masks and Cloth Masks in Controlling Respiratory Infections

In the face of the ongoing global health challenges and the unprecedented outbreak of respiratory infections, the use of face masks has become a focal point in preventing the transmission of infectious diseases. Two widely used types of masks, surgical masks and cloth masks, have gained significant attention in the public domain. In this article, we aim to provide a comprehensive comparison of these two mask types based on recent studies and peer-reviewed literature, focusing on their effectiveness, advantages, and limitations in mitigating respiratory infections.

Effectiveness in Filtering Particles:
Surgical Masks:
Surgical masks are designed to provide a barrier between the wearer’s mouth and nose and potential contaminants. They are typically made of multiple layers of non-woven material, offering high filtration efficiency. Studies indicate that surgical masks can filter out a substantial proportion of respiratory droplets and aerosols, including those carrying viral particles. This high filtering capability makes them effective in reducing the transmission of respiratory infections.

Cloth Masks:
Cloth masks, on the other hand, are generally made from various fabric materials, often with multiple layers. Their filtration efficiency can vary significantly depending on the fabric type and construction. Recent studies have shown that some cloth masks can offer moderate filtration effectiveness, but they may not match the level of protection provided by surgical masks.

Breathability and Comfort:
Surgical Masks:
Surgical masks are designed to strike a balance between filtration effectiveness and breathability. The materials used in surgical masks enable adequate airflow, ensuring better comfort during extended periods of use. However, the fit of surgical masks may vary among individuals, potentially compromising their effectiveness if not properly worn.

Cloth Masks:
Cloth masks, being more customizable in design, can offer a better fit for some individuals. This enhanced fit may improve their overall effectiveness, but it also relies heavily on proper construction and user adherence. The breathability of cloth masks can vary depending on the fabric used, with some materials allowing for better airflow than others.

Environmental Impact:
Surgical Masks:
The widespread use of surgical masks has raised concerns about their environmental impact. As disposable items, they contribute significantly to plastic waste, which can have adverse effects on the environment. Proper disposal and recycling mechanisms are crucial to mitigate this issue.

Cloth Masks:
Cloth masks are generally considered more environmentally friendly due to their reusable nature. However, their impact on the environment is also influenced by the materials used and the frequency of washing. Sustainable fabric choices and appropriate laundering practices can help reduce the environmental burden of cloth masks.


In conclusion, both surgical masks and cloth masks have their merits and limitations in controlling respiratory infections. Surgical masks provide higher filtration efficiency and are more suitable for medical settings or when interacting with vulnerable populations. Cloth masks, while offering moderate filtration, can be a practical option for daily use and are environmentally friendly when constructed from sustainable materials and maintained properly.

However, it is crucial to remember that wearing any mask alone is not a foolproof measure against respiratory infections. Complementing mask-wearing with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand hygiene and maintaining physical distance, is essential in curbing the spread of infectious diseases.


Radonovich, L. J. Jr, Simberkoff, M. S., Bessesen, M. T., et al. (2019). N95 Respirators vs Medical Masks for Preventing Influenza Among Health Care Personnel: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA, 322(9), 824-833. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.11645

Konda, A., Prakash, A., Moss, G. A., et al. (2020). Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks. ACS Nano, 14(5), 6339-6347. doi:10.1021/acsnano.0c03252

Davies, A., Thompson, K. A., Giri, K., et al. (2013). Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic? Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 7(4), 413-418. doi:10.1017/dmp.2013.43

Chu, D. K., Akl, E. A., Duda, S., et al. (2020). Physical Distancing, Face Masks, and Eye Protection to Prevent Person-to-Person Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Lancet, 395(10242), 1973-1987. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31142-9

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