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The most effective (and ineffective) masks to combat air pollution

The air quality in Northern California is the worst on record as fires continue to burn in the region. It's also a concern for those living in and around Anaheim Hills, where the Canyon Fire 2 is still burning.

Californians deal with fire risk almost year-round now, so it's not a bad idea to include in your first aid kit a mask that can help block out toxic particles in the air during a blaze.

We tested five different air pollution masks with Ed Avol, air pollution expert at USC's Keck School of Medicine. He gave us some insight on which ones worked, and which ones didn't.

1. Handkerchief

It's true, something is better than nothing. But in the case of this method, less is not more.

"It may get us to think about what we're breathing in terms of effectiveness. It doesn't really do much in terms of protection."

Don't waste your time with this one.

2. Surgical mask

This mask seems to be the one people reach for most often.

But Avol explains, it's a poor choice:

"Because it doesn't conform to the shape of your face and make a good seal...air is just going to go around the corners. In terms of smoke, that's the way particles are going to get in."

Throw that surgical mask away! It's not helping at all.

3. The N95

It's all in the name. Turns out the 95 in N95 is a rating on effectiveness. This half-domed mask filters 95 percent of certain sized particles.

It's a far better choice than the surgical mask or handkerchief because the metal piece at the top actually allows for the mask to mold to the shape of your face. That's how you stop harmful particles from getting in.

4. The N95 with ventilation

This is a variation of the N95, but with a plastic vent in the front. Avol described it as "the next grade up."

"This has a non-rebreathing one-way valve," said Avol. He explained that when it comes to disposable masks like the ones being tested, "it gets very humid and very damp inside."

"Masks like [the N95 with ventilation] have an exhalation valve on it — sort of help you to get the air out without bringing air in through that, without having to go through the protective filter."

Due to this nifty vent, this mask gets the "most effective disposable air pollution mask" award.

5. The P100, multipurpose respirator

This one is hardcore, as you can tell from the GIF. It's a lot more involved than the other masks.

"It has chemical cartridges screwed into either side of the face mask that protects against inhaling certain gases... This is no longer a sort of throwaway onetime use sort of thing — this is a rubberized cover. It has adjustable straps, a sure better fit."

But as far as fire protection goes, this may not be the best choice. Avol opts for the N95. "I think the N95 might do almost as good a job for getting the dust irritation."

To hear more on how to protect yourself from the poor air quality brought on by wildfires, click the blue play button above.