Using personal protective equipment (otherwise known as PPE) has become a fact of life for re-entering the workplace and interfacing with customers, thanks to the ongoing risks of COVID-19, otherwise known as the novel coronavirus.
At this point, it’s well known that PPE use is good practice (and in many states, required) for shared spaces. All the best research and health advisories confirm that these measures, combined with frequent hand-washing, can greatly reduce transmission of COVID-19.
What’s harder to find out is how to make sure the PPE you purchase is the best possible quality. After all, the most important part of PPE is “protection.”
But how do you test personal protective equipment? Here are the easiest, most effective tests for the most common PPE—masks and gloves—that you don’t need a lab to do.
There are a number of tests for masks, some of which you can think of as representing the tests of the “elements” of wind, water, and fire. (Note that these tests are intended for N95, KN95, or 3-ply masks, not homemade or cloth masks.)
This is a “blow” test to make sure the mask is preventing air from getting through. Hold the mask up in front of your face and hold a lit match or lighter on the other side. Then try to blow out through the mask. A high quality mask will not allow air to move through and extinguish the flame. If the flame goes out, toss the mask.
Masks should not be flammable; here’s how to make sure yours isn’t. Cut open one of the masks, and use a lighter to try to light the mask in fire. What you should see is a melting effect rather than it catching on fire. You should check each layer of the mask—sometimes manufacturers trying to cut corners will use quality, flame-proof material on the exterior layer(s) but not on the interior.
Of course, please conduct any flame-related experimentation in a safe location, like a bathtub.
This is another way to test the mask’s porousness, as it should be fairly impermeable to water, as well as airborne particulates. To test this, make a cup out of a mask. If you pour a decent amount of water on it, it should not leak through.
Ear Loop Testing
In addition to testing the face-covering part of the mask, you should test the ear loops for quality, as well. You want to make sure they are flexible but not too loose or too tight. Simply tug on them a bit to make sure they don’t pull off too easily.
Additionally, a common quality flaw with face masks is manufacturing them with shorter loops, making the mask tighter than necessary. These shorter loops are a telltale sign that quality control was not in place in the manufacturing process.
There are also some basic tests you can do with disposable gloves. The three primary types of gloves for medical and civilian use are latex, vinyl, and nitrile (a type of rubber). The key things to test for are whether the glove will leak and how easily the material breaks.
To try the water test, fill a glove with water until it’s completely full, and let it hang for two minutes. Place a dry piece of fabric, towel, or napkin underneath that will clearly show a dark spot when wet. If there is any leakage at all, the glove is no good.
You can also assess the quality of a glove by testing its stretchiness. To do this, put the glove on and pull the end of it toward your elbow to test how far the glove stretches without ripping. A high-quality glove will stretch close to the elbow, while a low-quality glove will tear almost immediately.
Zeel is Here to Help
Safety is an essential component of health and wellness, and Zeel’s PPE Consulting and Sourcing Division provides expert guidance for organizations seeking personal protective equipment for their business. Our PPE team includes industry veterans with decades of experience in global supply chain sourcing and trade.
In this difficult-to-navigate field, Zeel is a trusted, experienced partner to help you build your PPE strategy and acquire the products to implement it.
Amir Hemmat is the current Senior Director of Public Health and Workplace Safety for Zeel. Amir has focused on the procurement and supply chain management of PPE supplies over the past two decades, beginning with his service as a Health Policy Consultant to the California State Legislature in 2001. He is a longtime advocate for, and policy advisor to, federal and local governments for affordable and accessible healthcare and equipment. Amir is also Senior Advisor for the Health Care and Manufacturing & Supply Chain practices for strategy consulting firm Monarch Global Strategies. In addition to his work with health care and PPE supply chains, he is a co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based tech startups Welcome Technologies and SABEResPODER. Amir has a B.A. in Economics from UCLA, a degree in Applied Physiology from Chicago Medical School, and a Masters of Public Health from the University of Southern California.