While in Singapore we were lucky enough to be accepted by Mr Francis Chu to visit Totobobo mask's headquarters in Singapore and get to test live some samples of his invention. We were able to understand a little bit better the working mechanism of their product, how to properly wear the masks and how they perform compared to some of their direct competitors: Respro mask and 3M N95 disposable mask (1860s).
Arriving at Totobobo mask's headquarters and getting to know Mr Francis Chu
After wandering around Totobobo's neighborhood lost in between big commercial blocks, we eventually manage to decipher the coded Singaporean address we were provided, and to access the clean and professional looking headquarter of Totobobo.
We introduced ourself to the creator of Totobobo Mask, Mr Francis Chu (I forgot to ask him where Totobobo's name is coming from) and we soon felt a good connection with him: a humble, positive and friendly person.
What is Totobobo mask?
Totobobo mask is a reusable mask made of a non allergic elastomer, that uses replaceable filters and unique technologies. It is sold at the moment for 33 USD.
The peculiar characteristics of this mask are that it can be modeled using heat to fit perfectly everybody's face, and the "Watermark Seal Check", a technology that helps understanding when there are no gaps between mask and skin, by turning the frost internal surface of the material into transparent.
When there is a continuous transparent line in the contact interface face-mask, then a perfect fit is obtained.
The filters available come in 3 different grades: N96, N94, N92. The number basically indicate the percentage of particles over pm 2.5 that are blocked by the filter.
The most effective filter of the line, the N96, would block at least 96% of the contaminants. While it is more performant, it can make more difficult the breathing operation and it's more expensive than the others, so that while some customers might prefer the most effective option, others might find more convenient the N92 filters.
Totobobo mask comes in different sizes, and can even be trimmed to fit smaller faces.
Using Totobobo mask
Mr. Francis started our educational visit by showing us how to use his product.
The main operations that can be performed are:
- modifying the shape to perfectly fit the contour of the face;
- correctly wearing and adjusting the mask;
- replacing the filters.
There are plenty of tutorial and videos on their website on how to do that. That's where I suggest you to go for a more detailed explanation.
Heat is needed to reshape the mask, and it can be provided by an hair dryer or hot water. The suggested mixture to obtain the perfect temperature is 3/4 of boiling water and 1/4 of room temperature water.
After warming up the masks for a few seconds by immersing them, the elastomer becomes softer and it can be reshaped until it gets cold (a matter of a few seconds) and "freeze" in the new shape.
It is actually easier said than done, and the whole process needs to be repeated several times after verifying the watermark until a perfect fit is found.
The first time it can get frustrating, and it might take as long as one hour of trial and error until a satisfying solution is found, but don't give up! A perfect fit is ESSENTIAL for the efficiency of the mask!
TIP: You better exaggerate the deformation you want to impress, since after releasing the mask, it will partially go back to the previous shape.
You can also help yourself with tools, like a pen to wrap the mask around for the top tight curve of the nose, or a flat desk to flatten an angle.
It's possible to adjust the length of the elastic straps, by wrapping them around the plastic holders.
Reposition of the mask should be better done by pulling it in front and placing it back on the face, rather than pushing it to fill the gaps. If repositioning doesn't work, it means that it needs more reshaping.
Changing the filters is extremely easy, it's just about releasing two elastic bands, removing the used filter and placing the new one into place.
Testing Totobobo mask and its competitors
While at the Headquarter we had the chance to do a lab test analyzing the efficiency of Totobobo's mask and 2 of its competitors.
Totobobo was the winner with a reduction of 200+ times, 3M N95 reduced the pollutants around 30 times, and surprisingly Respro mask only 3 times!
We have written a separate article with the detail of the test and photos of the result: Comparison of 3 anti-pollution mask models.
This test was so educational for us. We understood how important is to find a perfect fit of the mask (Not only Totobobo, but any mask!) and that we were basically wasting time in Indonesia when wearing our simple Surgical masks.
Totobobo's packaging and enviormental approach
The packaging of Totobobo mask is really minimalistic and completely recyclable.
Fancier, more sellable packaging have been discarded to reduce at minimum the waste created by the product: Mr Francis preferred to stick to his environmental beliefs, rather than selling a few more masks.
The plastic bag of the case is actually a zip-lock bag, that can be easily reused.
Also the filters packaging uses a similar zip-lock bag, and contains a single simple paper presentation with an image to be used as a reference to understand at what moment to replace the filters, e.g. when they reach a 50% gray color (but no later than after 2 weeks).
Totobobo and cyclists
Totobobo mask is s cyclist friendly product, not only because cyclists are one of the major supporters, but also because Mr Francis is a cyclist himself and the only extra bit of paper in the packaging is a nice heart shaped recyclable note addressed to car drivers, asking them to respect cyclists since they are making the air less polluted also for them.
By the way drivers! Some studies shows how pollution inside the car can get even higher than the one outside, since somehow it gets stuck in the cabin: so car drivers shouldn't thing that masks are something only for cyclist or pedestrian and that they are immune to the pollution that they are creating!
Cons and possible improvements of Totobobo mask
While the mask works amazingly when perfectly set up, the learning curve to understand how to reshape the mask is quite steep, and we are scared that some people might get frustrated and misuse the mask or just give up.
While wearing the mask in warm and humid tropical climate, there is condensation inside the mask, that can feel annoying at the beginning.
That's a common problem to several masks, and to solve it Totobobo propose the possibility to trim the mask to the "SuperCool" design covering only the mouth, so that exhalation can be done through the nose with no condensation. This design is particularly suggested for cyclists that wants to inhale more air using the mouth instead of the nose.
As a secondary cons, we realized that the look of the mask is so unique, that many people were staring at us. Some people might feel uncomfortable and stop wearing the mask. A suggestion is to propose a customization pack with a thin personalized cover to put on top of Totobobo mask, or if you feel uncomfortable just wear a cheap standard mask on top of Totobobo's.
In any case we of course prioritize our health over our look.
As a suggestion for the future we would also like to see a "family pack" with maybe 50 filters at a discounted price, to decrease the operational cost (already quite low compared to other brands at around 2-5$ per month) for people permanently living in polluted places and to also reduce transportation costs-emissions and packaging.
Our final conclusion
We have started using our Totobobo masks, and changed the filters for the first time after 7 days of usage in Malaysia, plagued by the haze coming from Indonesia. So far we are satisfied, it works well and the filters are getting gray as expected!
We are so grateful to have met Mr. Francis Chu and directly experience the lab tests on the masks! Now we understand much better what are the important parameters to choose an effective pollution mask, and how to correctly wear it.
At the end of our visit to Totobobo's headquarters, we were happy to support their products not only because they are effective, but also because we believe in Mr Francis mission and we liked a lot his approach of doing business, not putting money and success as the main priority if it's colliding with higher purposes.
Quoting Totobobo website:
"However, face mask is not a sustainable solution, reduce consumption is."
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post and we received free sample masks to write this article, but what we wrote represent our honest opinion, including not only pros but also cons.