29 October 2015

Totobobo Mask Review

We've been invited to Totobobo Headquater in Singapore to learn more about the Totobobo mask. I met with the owner, Francis and I was impressed to hear his vision on how he designed the mask that's not only safe but also practical to use.

There are two important things to consider for a mask to be able to filter well the pollution or haze. The first is the fit and second is the filter. if you've a good filter but a poor fit, it doesn't help much because as you inhale the pollution or the haze will go through the small opening. if you've a bad filter and good seal it's also doesn't help much because all the small particles will go through easily.


To be effective masks like N95 masks need to maintain a well-fitter seal at all times. When you breath especially during the inhale while wearing a not properly sealed mask, the air that you're inhaling enters through the gaps bypassing the mask filtration system. this can also gives people a false sense of security, that's why mask manufacturer normally printed the guide how to fit the mask outside of the box.

Since the haze couple of years back honestly I've been trying a lot of different type of mask but unable to get a perfect fit. This is the strong point of Totobobo mask, you can actually reshape the mask with a warm water or hair dryer to fit you better.

To measure the effectiveness of the masks (fit factor), we were using the TSI portacount pro device, this device is reliable enough to fit test any fitting respirators.

What is a fit factor?
A fit factor is a measure of how well a particular face piece seals against a person's face. It is expressed as a ratio of the concentration of challenge aerosol outside a respirator to the concentration of aerosol that leaks into the respirator through the face seal. A fit factor of 100 means the air inside the mask is 100 times cleaner than the air outside. The measurements made during face fit tests are an assessment of respirator fit at the time of testing only. Respirator fit at all other times will vary. The Fit Factor value is not intended for use in calculating an individual’s actual exposure to hazardous substances.

We spent some time to custom fit the mask,that's another advantage of totobobo mask: the water-mark method to identify any leaks, the internal surface of the mask turns into transparent when it touches a wet skin.
picture taken from totobobo.com

The result: it has more than 200+ fit factor. I was happy with the result finally I'm able to get a good fit mask.

Let's take a look at a different test, the Respro mask. I had a difficulties to fit the mask, it could be that the mask size is too big for me.

It has a low fit factor about 40-60 but as I pressed the mask harder with my hand, the fit factor jumped to 200+, when I released it the fit factor was dropping to 0. Respro has a good  fit factor if you are able to get a good seal with it

How do you know whether a mask is well sealed? it's hard to know actually even with the recommended fit check (inhale and exhale to check the air leakage)I found it difficulties to justify whether there's a leak or not. This is what I like about Tobobo mask that it has the capability to check the seal with visual identification. you can also adjust the straps and even convert the ear loop to "head starp" with the connecting adapter (included in the package) 


We are all quite familiar with N95 masks, normally it's either NIOSH certified (US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) or EN-149:2001 (European standard).

Tobobo mask filter vs N95 filter thickness, it's thinner if you compare it together with the outer layer but it looks about the same if you compare it with the inner layer only.
NIOSH certified mask need to have at least 95% filter efficiency, while EN149 has three classification FFP1 (80% Filter effiency), FFP2 (94%) and FFP3 (99%) and they can filter 0.1-0.3 microns particles if it's perfectly fit on the wearer's face.

Totobobo has 3 different filters F96 (96%), F94 (94%) and F92(92%). Totobobo mask / filters are not officially certified by NIOSH / EN149 but they've been proven by the lab (Nelson Laboratories) that they are able to perform pretty well.

    picture taken from totobobo.com

The lab results shows that the F96 filter has 99.86% efficiency to filter up to 0.1 microns particle. the F94 has 99.71% filtration efficiency. the F92 doesn't have any lab report.

I've enjoyed looking through the microscope directly to see those small black particle trapped in the fiber :)

The fiber diameter thickness is about 2.3 microns and if you see on the image above there are smaller particles (black dots) that was trapped, how this is possible? the answer is the electrostatic attraction.

If you want to know more about the electrostatic you can read it at Tobobo blog at here or at CDC website here.

     picture taken from totobobo.com 

This electrostatic force will slowly decrease gradually and it's recommended to replace the filter after 2 weeks of use, or when it changes to 50% grey.

Even though without the certification based on the lab result the F96 Totobobo filter has the same capabilities and effectiveness as certified N95.

From the pictures we can see that there's a visual confirmation how much that they filter able to trapped the particles. This is a good indication on when to change the filter compared to normal N95 mask. It doesn't mean that N95 mask doesnt captured particles as good as Totobobo but normally other N95 mask has a filter area effectiveness higher than Totobobo (the whole mask is a filter compared to two small filters in the Totobob mask).

we also tried using normal cotton pad from guardian to test out the filter, Nice try! but the result was bad so don't compromise it, use at least F92 filter.

First impression summary:

Totobobo mask has a good feature where you can customize the mask (and the ear loop) by reshaping it with hot water / hair dryer. This is a very crucial feature, a mask that do not fit your face is not an effective mask at all. The rim of the mask is integrated with silver ion which is an anti-microbial agent. it's recommended to use a warm water to reshape, it will change the integrity of the mask if you put it in a very hot water. The ear strap is also adjustable and you can convert it to a head strap.

You need to spend some time to customize your mask for the first time, it's not easy to get a good fit in the beginning but you just need to do trial and error.

The filter lacks of official certification but the it has passed the lab test for 96% effectiveness to filter 0.1 microns particles. Nelson laboratories looks pretty reliable test center, you can read about them here and they've been mentioned in the CDC news as well, read it here. The lack of certification could make some customer feel unsecured / worried.

Another good point it's reusable, you just need to change the filter. When it gets dirty you can wash them. In the Totobobo website it stated that you can use the mask up to 100 times.

In my opinion, the price is a little bit expensive compared to other mask such as Airplus smart. Totobobo mask costs USD 33 for the mask and USD 35 for 10 pairs of F96 filter while Airplus Smart Mask costs SGD 7 (three masks).

Compared to Respro, Totobobo price is slightly cheaper. If you are commuting to work for 2 hours x 5 days = 10 hours a week / 40 hours a month then roughly for USD 23 (2x twin pack sporta 2.5 filters to be replaced every month or every 69 hours, whichever is sooner - respro faqs) could last for 2-3 months. Totobobo filters F96, for USD 35 could last 3-5 months (1 pair for 2 weeks, change earlier if it turns grey).

Take it with a pinch of salt as for now, I haven't review the Respro in detail and it depends on a number of other factors (such as breathing rate, level of pollution, etc). 

If you are using mask for temporary season such as haze season it makes more sense to buy Airplus smart mask provided you get a good fit as good as Totobobo but for daily use in a polluted area such as Shanghai and Beijing it's better to buy Totobobo considering the practicality of the mask.

For cyclist I think it's better to consider Totobobo. I don't have a good experience using normal mask for cycling, it will get wet then lose its shape and it always leak after a while from the nose, even worst it's fogging up my glasses. It's also difficult to take off especially if you've a helmet and wearing glasses.

We will see how this mask performs in the coming weeks for real life test.

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