While some countries are starting to lift restrictions, social distancing and hand-washing guidelines are still in place for the US, along with advisories to wear masks in public places. Not medical and surgical masks, but coverings like reusable face masks instead.
Even before this announcement, the use of face masks for Coronavirus was becoming more widespread. But it’s unclear just how effective reusable face masks are, which ones you should buy and how to make reusable masks at home. So, we’ve done some research and come up with these fabric face mask facts.
Will a Reusable Face Mask Protect Against COVID-19?
According to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, you should wear medical-grade face masks only if you work directly with patients or look after anyone who has COVID-19. These are the most effective kind of coronavirus face mask and should be reserved for essential healthcare staff who are working on the frontline of the pandemic.
While reusable face masks, or non-medical face masks, aren’t as effective at stopping the virus, there is a benefit to wearing one – they can help prevent you from spreading COVID-19 to others if you’re asymptomatic. Even scientists have called for the public to wear them to help slow the spread.
By using a cloth face mask when you’re out and about in crowded areas (as the Scottish government suggests), your mouth will be covered and fewer particles will be spread into the air through your coughs and sneezes. It’s important to note that you can still catch COVID-19 if you’re wearing a reusable face mask through any virus particles that land on your hands, clothes, or the mask. That’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines on how to wear a face mask and how to remove it. And to stick to social distancing and regular hand washing too.
Reusable face masks are a complementary measure. Don’t fall into the ‘false sense of security’ trap.
Fabric Face Mask Benefits
While reusable face masks may not be as effective as medical-grade ones, there are some other positives to consider:
- They’re reusable – you can wear, wash and reuse them
- They’re washable – popping your mask in a 60°C wash will kill any COVID-19 particles
- They’re eco-friendly – you only need one or two to last you through the pandemic
- They’ll prevent you from (unknowingly) spreading the virus
- They won’t disrupt or impact the medical-grade mask supply
Homemade Masks or Professionally-Made Masks
The key thing is to focus on when you’re buying or making a face mask is choosing the right kind of fabric. To help you make an informed decision, we need to get into the science for a second.
There’s a team at Smart Air Filters who are conducting ongoing tests on this topic. They’re using a variety of household materials and particle sizes to find the best fabric for face masks. So far, they’ve found that dish towels, coffee filters, and paper towels are best at stopping particles the same size as the virus. But you have to consider breathability too, and it turns out that natural fibers such as 0.5mm canvas, 120-thread cotton bedsheets, and 100% cotton tees meet both requirements the most.
So, if you’re going DIY with your coronavirus mask, choose your material wisely. Then scout around the available designs online, watch some videos and find a face mask sewing pattern to guide you. This one is from the CDC.
Alternatively, you can purchase pre-made cloth face masks from sites like Etsy. There is also these professionally made, 100% recycled face masks. They meet the suggested fabric requirements and they’re even more eco-friendly too!
In both cases, these masks are reusable and they’re washable too. Just throw them in a 60°C wash after you’ve worn them once to help you kill all the virus particles. Once they’re fully dry, they’ll be ready for another outing.
At the end of the day, reusable face masks don’t hurt anyone, and they do offer a benefit to you and the other people around you who may be at risk. They’re better for the environment than single-use masks too. So, if you’re considering wearing a face mask, go with cloth and leave the medical-grade masks for those who need them most.