Superior Seal Makes idMask Effective, But Product Could Use Some Debugging

Whenever a new mask enters the market I am super eager to test it, as I’ve been living (and breathing) in Greyjing for 16 years now. Disclaimer: I’m no scientist – I’m basing my testing entirely on subjective use.

One of the newer entrants on the market is the idMask, a hard plastic cup with a flexible silicon seal, replaceable filters and an adjustable strap. I’ve tested it for a few days now and rather than pontificating about it in this intro, I’ll get straight to the pluses and minuses:

Pluses

Superior seal: With a floppy silicone seal around its cover, I have yet to come across a mask that has such an effective seal. I have a short beard, and the seal worked even for my face. I wear glasses and have a great big laowai nose, and none of this was a problem for this mask.

A silicone seal and adjustable straps give this mask a superior fit

Confidence: As we’ve pointed out before, mask fit is probably the most important determinant of its effectiveness. The problem with many cloth masks is there is not an effective way to easily test whether air is coming in from the sides. With idMask, it’s super easy – a medium-sized palm can easily block the two filters, and a simple inhale will allow you to test if the seal is effective. Mine worked perfectly – no air came in from around the silicone seal.

Breathability: I was expecting that having all my breathing pass through two 3.5cm diameter holes would be laborious; the opposite was true. Breathing was natural, as if I was not wearing a mask.

Rugged: The hard plastic exterior is tough and looks like it could withstand a drop or two. In fact, I slammed it on the floor of my office a couple of times (to simulate, say dropping it on the ground while riding a bike) and I was not able to break it.

Adjustable straps: I was not convinced at first by the adjustable wide elastic strap that attaches to the mask at a single point on either side, but in the end I was won over. Though hard to adjust at first, the strap was both comfortable and held the mask on tight.

Innovation: I respect those that use their entrepreneurial skills to come up with solutions to the air pollution problem we all are forced to grapple with here in Beijing, and the story behind the idMask is an inspirational one. Kudos to the team for pushing the envelope with silicone seals, which we hope get adopted by others.

Minuses

Too many parts: The silicone seal is detachable and difficult to shove back in once you’ve taken it out. Replacing the filters requires the use of a screwdriver and is ergonomically finicky. The straps are adjustable but were not easy to set up initially.

Condensation is a problem inside the mask due to its use of materials and tight fit

A small puddle of water formed in the mask after a half hour of usage in the cold weather

Condensation: a tremendous amount of condensation quickly builds inside the mask. To be fair, I do a lot of walking and I’m generally a sweaty beast, but the mask became coated with visible drops of condensation after less than 25 minutes of walking in the dead of winter. There was so much condensation in the mask that I discovered a small puddle of water in the bottom when i took it off. The translucent version makes all those rivulets of moisture very public for all to see.

When drop testing the mask, I was surprised to see that one of the filters was easily dislodged

Filter security: In my drop test, the mask didn’t break, but to my surprise one of the filters came out of its circular fastener. If this were to happen while riding your bike (and you didn’t have a screwdriver handy to remove the ring that holds it to put in back in place), the filtration is rendered useless.

Fashion: The mask comes in clear, black and pink models, which gives you a choice of the Operating Room Anesthesia look, the Darth Vader look, or the Spice Girl look. None really jibe with me (though anyone who knows me knows I am not terribly fashion conscious and could use a good makeover). However, the see-through version is particularly bad as it gives you the look of a ill patient just about to be put under for open heart surgery.

Unfortunately the other item that comes to mind when looking at the mask is an athletic cup (and a particularly sweaty one at that).

The “Tighty Whitey” effect: The small circular filters are a blessing and a curse: You can easily see how well the filters are doing because they turn a disgusting shade of brown very quickly – mine did after less than an hour’s use on an AQI > 200 day. It’s nice to know its working, but its problematic first and foremost because the effective life of the filter is much longer, yet if you continue to use it, you look a bit like you’re walking around with a pair of soiled underpants strapped to your face. Other white-colored full-facemask type filters such as 3Ms or designer masks that feature darker colors or patterns tend to dissipate or disguise the concentrated smog stains.

Cost: Though I have no doubt to its effectiveness, at RMB 299 it’s hard to rationalize, given the number of cheaper alternatives that filter almost as well. If you’re like me and tend to easily misplace things like hats and gloves, then spending a lot on something you are taking on and off multiple times a day means just another thing to worry about losing.

I can also see myself losing a filter ring or damaging it with a screwdriver, rendering the mask useless. Then there’s the teensy replacement filters that I am sure to put in a drawer and say to myself “OK, I’ll remember where I put those” … only to forget where I put them two hours later.

I have about four dozen 3M masks floating around in my house, in my office, and usually crumpled up and stuffed into the pocket of various coats. Lose one and I’m out a mere RMB 20.

Convenience of carrying: This mask is hard to store in a pocket, unless it’s a big winter coat pocket. And I find porting big, elaborate masks around to things like meetings at restaurants awkward – what’s the proper mask etiquette when arriving at a social occasion, flop it on the table? Hang it on your chair? Drape it around your neck like a pediatrician’s stethoscope? A fabric or disposable mask is much easier to squirrel away discretely in a pocket.

The idMask retails for RMB 299 and can be purchased online here.

Images: Michael Wester

This post originally appeared on thebeijinger.com

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