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How to Test PPE to Confirm it Meets the Highest Safety Standards

How to Test PPE to Confirm it Meets the Highest Safety Standards

Amir Hemmat

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.

Testing Masks 

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.)

Wind Test

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.

Fire Test

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 exteriorlayer(s) but not on the interior

Of course, please conduct any flame-related experimentation in a safe location, like a bathtub. 

Water Test

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. 

Testing Gloves

There are also some basic tests you can do with disposable gloves. The three primary types of gloves for medical and civilian use are latexvinyl, and nitrile (a type of rubber). The key things to test for are whether the glove will leak and how easily the material breaks.

Water Test

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. 

Stretch Test

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

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 partner in getting the best price, highest quality, and fastest turnaround for your PPE supplies. Contact us today.

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