Edit (Feb. 1, 2020): With the coronavirus outbreak in China, this post is getting a lot of hits from Vietnam. First and foremost, PM2.5 masks (actually called respirators) are not a replacement for surgical masks. See this video to learn how to wear a surgical mask -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWrinkuoljE.
I decided to do a post on all of the different PM 2.5 masks that I wear/wore in Saigon the past year. There are a large number of PM 2.5 masks available in both Saigon and Hanoi. Sadly, many are not real PM 2.5 masks nor do they meet N95 or N99 standards.
I first starting wearing PM 2.5 masks when I moved to Shanghai in 2016. Any sane Expat would wear a mask. Most of the masks below were bought from Shanghai on TaoBao unless indicated. During my trips to Saigon in 2016 and 2017, I would bring masks with me.
FYI: The valves on the masks are not the actual filter. They are used to cool the mask by making it easier to exhale.
3M 9332 N99 Masks
This was the first mask I bought in Shanghai was the 3M 9332 N99 PM 2.5 mask. It is quite popular mask for Chinese to buy but a bit pricey. I paid about $5 USD per mask but they go up to $12.99 USD per mask on Amazon in the US. On the list, the 3M masks are the only ones tested and approved as N95 or N99 by NIOSH.
Though popular and best at filtering out 99% of PM 2.5, it was actually not comfortable to wear. When I brought them to Saigon, they got dirty real fast. I was lucky to get two weeks out of them. Hence I tried other masks.
These are the pricey masks, roughly $35 USD each. I bought them since the Cambridge Masks are advertised as military grade and could last 6 months. They even came with their own unique bar code so you can test whether they were genuine or not. Cambridge masks are quite comfortable to wear but I did have to create a knot to shorten the straps around my ears.
Unfortunately there are some disagreements on how long the Cambridge Masks actually last. I recommend Cambridge to do tests to validate their claims they can last 6 months. Otherwise, it may be best to replace these masks in a more timely manner.
Totobobo masks are made in Singapore. They are the only two valve mask I own. Though I find they are uncomfortable for normal walking, they are perfect for exercising. Sadly, the straps easily break so I have to come up with a solution to keep wearing them. This shows you how much I like these maps.
Yes there is leakage but it still filters the PM 2.5. A plus, it is easy to do any cardio work with these masks on. I use them to weightlift and ride my bicycle. I have no problems breathing. All the other masks are worthless when doing exercises.
I am thinking about putting a notch in both sides of the mask and using Velcro to wrap around my head.
AQBlue (My current go to mask)
AQBlue is my current go to mask that you can easily purchase in Saigon. As AQBlue would attest too, I am very critical of their masks. Tom Druk answers all of the questions and assures AQBlue masks meet N95 requirements. They are quite comfortable to wear specifically made for motorbikes. A definite must for expats in Saigon.
Best Mask for Saigon
More of a joke here but if you really want 100% protection from PM 2.5 and below, you best wear an oxygen mask. I know one British guy up in Hanoi who wore a gas mask since he felt even 99% protection was not enough in that polluted city.
You will have to do research to decide whether the masks that you are buying are legit or not. The CDC does keep a list of approved masks but you need to remember one thing, most masks are made for one day’s use. They were intended to be worn by construction workers, medical specialists, etc., who would throw the masks away after each day’s use. In some cases, the masks may be thrown out by lunch or each time leaving a construction site or working environment.
You should be wary of claims that a mask will last 2 weeks or 6 months. Unless NIOSH or other testing agencies test for this, you just do not know. For now, just go with a 3M or AQBlue mask. Use Totobobo for exercising. Despite what people say, you WILL NOT adjust to the air pollution.