Our story

Where are the masks? Where are the facts?

In these confusing times, with the threat of COVID lurking around every corner, it can be hard to know which way to turn for advice and information.

This was the position we found ourselves in early 2020 when we began looking for the best mask to protect ourselves and, more importantly, our vulnerable elderly family members. What we discovered was astounding…

Just ask Google

We began our search, as most of us would, on Google. Typing in ‘buy masks online’, we expected to find a list of websites where we could purchase a mask that would keep us safe and prevent us from getting infected by the virus. Instead, we were presented with a list of articles with titles like ‘Where to buy the most stylish mask in 2020’. Our first thought was, ‘Has the world gone mad?!’

Cotton face masks were all the rage — available in various prints and colours — but none of them were rated by any kind of certifying body to protect against COVID-19. Nowhere in these lists could we see even the most basic types of masks recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization) or CDC (Centre for Disease Control).

These ineffective cotton face coverings and low-quality masks were (and still are) being touted all over the internet, with people more concerned about having a fashionable design on their face than something which will prevent them from becoming infected. Younger people are happy to take the risk of infection so long as they can ‘look cool’ — safe in the knowledge that they have strong immune systems, but not considering that they could be spreading the virus to the elderly and more vulnerable people they come into contact with.

WaivLength Face Masks

Pinpointing the problem

In our daily activities, we touch handrails, countertops and other surfaces which hundreds of people have come into contact with. Then, we unknowingly transfer viruses and bacteria from these surfaces to our nose and mouth. This is the main reason why the UK Government recommends using face coverings and even DIY masks made from scrap material if we do not have access to proper PPE. And that, in turn, is the reason why companies have been able to advertise these ineffective cotton masks all over the internet.

The problem with this is that people do not wash their face coverings as recommended by the government guidelines. We are all very busy, and it can be hard to find the time to put a cloth mask in the washing machine for an hour and then wait for it to dry before we can use it again. Many people go days without washing their face coverings and reusable masks. Some never wash their face coverings at all.

This can increase the risk of infection from COVID-19 and a host of other respiratory infections. Over the days of wearing a cloth mask without cleaning it, users will transfer more and more bacteria and virus particles onto their face coverings. Whilst they are wearing them, they are also breathing warm moist air through the material right in front of their nose and mouth, creating the perfect environment for viruses and bacteria to multiply.

Why has COVID-19 spread so fast throughout the UK? Well, maybe this has something to do with it!

More questions than answers

Seeing all this shocked us here at WaivLength. We felt that we had to bring a product to the market which would be inexpensive and effective at protecting our customers, whilst educating people and providing the information they need to choose a safe mask that works.

After a bit of reading, we at least managed to find out that face masks should be rated based on the percentage of particles of a given size which can pass through the mask filter. However, there was still further confusion here. What sized particles did they use to test this percentage of efficiency? The answer was that it depends on the testing method.

Some information used ‘microns’ to measure the particles, whereas others used ‘nanometres’ or micrometres. Many of them used a mixture of all three measurements! So, what is the difference? Well, it turns out that microns (µ) and micrometres (µm) are in fact, exactly the same: 1/1000 of a centimetre (cm). Nanometres (nm) are then 1/1000000 of a centimetre (cm).

There was also a lot of jargon and all sorts of three-letter acronyms — like BFE, PFE and MPPS — used without explaining what they stood for. It was almost as if these websites were designed to confuse their readers rather than inform them.

In the end, we managed to find out that the percentage BFE (Bacterial Filtering Efficiency) is tested using particles of 3 microns in size, whereas the percentage PFE (Particle Filtering Efficiency) is tested using particles of 0.1 microns in size. The percentage MPPS (Most Penetrating Particle Size) is then measured using a particle size somewhere in between — 0.3 microns — which is the hardest particle size to capture.

Some success at last

After doing a bit more research, we finally started coming across the types of masks the CDC and WHO were recommending, only to be met with a jumble of confusing letters and numbers. IIR, N95, FFP2, FFP3, PM2.5, KN99 — how could we tell which mask would offer the best protection?

At first glance, the Type-IIR masks stated a 98% efficiency and were referred to as ‘medical masks’. Naturally, we assumed these must offer the best protection. If medical professionals are using them, they must be the safest masks available, right? It turns out, this is not the case!

Type-IIR masks are only rated for their exhalation filtering efficiency, meaning they are certified to prevent the user from infecting those around them, but not to protect the user themselves. Although ‘98% efficiency’ sounded impressive, when we dug a little deeper and unravelled the jargon, it turned out these masks did not provide the level of protection we were looking for.

This brought us on to N95 masks, which were in very high demand at the time and sold out in most places. When we investigated the details of this type of mask, we began to realise we were on the right track. The ‘95’ in ‘N95’ stands for a 95% efficiency. This mask is tested with MPPS for both exhalation and inhalation, so we could be sure it was protecting the user and those around them. Finally, some success!

Next, we looked at FFP2 masks, which we found were essentially the EU equivalent of the American N95 masks. In Europe, we have the EC (European Commission) as our certifying body, which rates masks as FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3 based on greater than 80%, 94% or 99% MPPS filtering efficiency.

Children Face Mask

The next hurdle

Having finally identified which mask was going to be right for us, we then went bargain hunting for FFP2 and FFP3 masks in the UK. Our enthusiasm quickly turned to dread when we saw the prices of our chosen PPE. With the WHO recommending that we change our masks at least every six hours, you would be looking at spending between £75 to £150 a month!

This left us in a position where we felt the only options available were either financial hardship or inadequate protection. Surely there must be a better option?

So, we went on a mission to bring a better mask to the UK, which would provide the same high level of protection that we were looking for — at an affordable price.

The solution we are now happy to offer is a microwave-sterilisable medical silicone respirator mask with replaceable FFP2 filters, which cost as little as £0.44 per filter. This works out at a monthly cost of only £10.99 (15% of the price of the cheapest alternative available in the UK), for the same level of protection as the masks we previously found.

A safe, convenient and sustainable solution

Our respirator mask also provides a host of other benefits over standard FFP2 masks. Medical-grade silicone contains silver ions, meaning its surface is permanently antimicrobial. This is a very beneficial feature when applied to a protective face mask because it protects the user from transferring bacteria or viruses from the surfaces they touch onto their mask or face. (Studies have shown that we touch our faces between 25 and 30 times per hour and that the primary cause of COVID-19 infection is from contact with contaminated surfaces.)

Medical silicone also moulds to the face and can be sterilised in just five minutes using a microwave, oven or boiling water. Combined with replaceable FFP2 filters, which take only a few seconds to change, this presents a much safer and more convenient alternative to the other face masks currently available. So, there is no excuse for wearing a contaminated, unsafe mask!

And as if that was not enough, each filter creates less than 20% of the waste material compared to a standard Type-IIR mask, and only 10% the waste material of your average FFP2 disposable — helping to reduce your impact on the environment.

We are proud to have brought this solution to the people of the UK. We want to help end this crisis, and we are committed to cutting through the jargon and keeping people informed so that they can make the right choices to stay safe.

So, please support us in our efforts to get this respirator mask out to those who need it and help us stop the spread of the virus.