A new kind of reusable face mask promises to be light, comfortable and as protective as commonly used disposable masks. Other reusable face masks, known as elastomeric respirators, do exist. Most people would be familiar with the two-chambered gas mask, for example, but that is not a design that could succeed in health and wellness markets.
But traditional elastomeric respirators, such as a gas mask, look this way because the larger surface is required to get proper filtration—95 to 99 percent. Every time the wearer inhales, all the air coming in needs to move through a thick filter, so the bigger the surface area the less a wearer feels like they are trying to pull each breath through a thick cloth.
Flo Mask creator Kevin Ngo was motivated to develop the product following devastating wildfires in 2018 that year, which led to his neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay Area blanketed in toxic smoke for weeks. Ngo’s children’s mask was launched first; an adult version followed after overcoming the challenges of proper fit and the 95 percent efficiency expected by people choosing N95 masks.
To accomplish this level of efficiency, Ngo used a next-generation filter material that had been developed in late 2019 and initially used only by the Dept. of Defense. The test results with the new filter material revealed it had the ability to filter with 99 percent efficiency over a tiny surface area while maintaining extraordinary breathability.
The product has been selected as a finalist in a Mask Innovation Moonshot Challenge spearheaded by U.S. government agencies. The designer makes no claims that Flo Mask is equivalent to an authorized N95. However, as part of the Mask Innovation Challenge, the product has been through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s testing protocol. Results are available on YouTube.