Here’s What Makes a Face Mask Effective

According to the CDC, any face covering is better than no face covering when it comes to protecting yourself and others from COVID-19. But some fabrics are more effective than others, and if you want to do all you can to protect yourself and stop the pandemic, you’re probably looking to get the most effective Effective Face Mask made of cloth yourself and your family.

But, what makes a cloth face mask more or less effective? Factors like the type of fabric used, the number of layers, the fit, whether and what kind of filter the mask uses, and even whether the mask has ties or loops all play a role. Let’s take a closer look.

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Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash

A Tight Weave

COVID-19 virus particles are microscopic, and no mask can provide 100 percent protection against virus particles — even medical-grade N95 masks won’t stop 100 percent of virus particles. But that doesn’t mean cloth face masks are entirely useless. The right cloth face mask will trap a substantial percentage of virus particles in its fibers. 

Researchers at Wake Forest University compared the micro-particle filtration capabilities of 400 face masks made of different materials. They discovered that tightly woven fabrics performed best, blocking as many as 79 percent of microscopic particles. Dr. Scott Segal, an anesthesiologist who led the study, said that heavyweight quilters cotton with a thread count of at least 180 was most effective. Other effective materials include canvas, tea towels, high thread count sheets, and quilted cotton. Avoid knit fabrics, as these aren’t tightly woven enough to provide protection.

Multiple Layers of Fabric

The Wake Forest study also found that multiple layers of fabric make a mask more effective than a single layer. If you’re going to buy washable face masks, don’t get masks made with a single layer of thin fabric. Your mask should have at least two layers of a thick, high thread count cotton fabric. Two layers of heavy quilters cotton provided the most protection in the Wake Forest study, but masks made of a layer of quilters cotton and a layer of cotton flannel performed equally well. Masks made with a layer of cotton and a layer of silk are more effective than masks with a single layer of fabric.

Breathability and Comfort

Wearing a face mask isn’t about being comfortable, right? While it’s true that wearing a mask won’t be as comfortable as not wearing one, especially when temperatures climb over the summer, an effective mask should be breathable and comfortable enough that you’re able to wear it the entire time you’re out in public and can’t social distance, or you’re taking care of someone sick with COVID-19 at home. Washable face masks made with 100 percent cotton offer the optimum in breathability. The mask and the ties or loops should be comfortable enough that you can wear it without taking it off for the entire time you need it.

A Snug Fit

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Image by Christo Anestev for Pixabay

If your mask doesn’t fit snugly around your face, air will leak in and out around the sides, potentially spreading the virus. You should make sure your washable face mask fits all the way snugly around, with no gaps or holes between the fabric and your face. Masks with ties, rather than ear loops, fit better because you can adjust the fit more precisely with ties, but there are some tricks you can use with earloop masks that will help you adjust the fit. Remember, the fit should be snug, but not painful. 

Of course, most masks aren’t going to fit snugly around your nose without a piece of wire or copper ribbon that you can pinch across the bridge of your nose, so look for that feature. If you wear glasses, you should be able to wear a mask without it fogging up. When you breathe, the fabric should move in and out accordingly.

Some Kind of Filter

Studies have found that quilted cotton masks are very effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19 because the quilters batting in the middle provides more filtration to catch virus particles. However, a quilted mask might be too hot, especially in the summer. Many fabric masks have filter pockets, and you can use any household paper products, like tissues, coffee filters, or paper towels, to make a filter. Be careful about using furnace filters or vacuum cleaner bags — many contain fiberglass, which you don’t want to inhale. However, a fiberglass-free HEPA filter can provide a high level of filtration, as long as it’s sandwiched between two layers of fabric to keep you from inhaling any fibers.

Cloth face masks can do a lot to slow the spread of COVID-19. Choose the most effective mask you can find, and do your part to fight the invisible enemy.