Coronavirus came like a global earthquake, and no one knows when the world will stop quaking. The seismic wave of this pandemic has shaken up our lives in too many ways to count. COVID-19, the most recent strain of coronavirus we’re contending with, has caused numerous illnesses, and unfortunately deaths, worldwide. We are all taking measures to stay safe and flatten the curve; from washing our hands to full on social isolation, these methods have been deemed effective with a resounding consensus. However, one safety measure has become a point of controversy and contention: the face mask. Differing and flip-flopping views of face masks have resulted in confusion and skepticism.
We’re here to give you the facts.
Should I Wear a Face Mask for COVID-19?
Initally, the CDC and The World Heath Organization advised the general public against wearing face masks; the World Health Organization still holds this view, stating that the healthy “only need to wear a mask if [they] are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection,” or if they are coughing and sneezing. In other words, the only people who need to wear masks are health care workers, and those with COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms.
This recommendation was based on the overwhelming shortage of face masks for those who desperately need them. In the opinion of the WHO, general use of face masks would limit the number of face masks available to those with an immediate and urgent need for masks without adequate reason or justification. However, on April 3, 2020, the CDC changed its tune.
The CDC released a statement recommending everyone visiting public or crowded locations, such as grocery stores or pharmacies, should wear a cloth mask covering their mouth and nose. the CDC is now advising all Americans to wear cloth masks to help slow the spead of the virus while leaving difficult-to-find medical grade masks for first responders and those in high-risk situations. Since this announcement, many cities in the U.S. have made face masks mandatory when in public. Why did the CDC’s recommendation change? The CDC stated that new research on the coronavirus shows that many of those infected do not show symptoms, but can still transmit the virus.
What is the Best Face Mask for Covid-19?
Many of us are now under government order to wear cloth masks in public, so the question changes from “should I wear a face mask?” to “which face mask should I choose?”. Not all masks are created equal, and levels of protection are very varied. There are two main things to consider when determining the effectiveness of any mask: the filtration level and the fit.
- The filtration level defines the percentage of microscopic particles and droplets that are prevented from passing through the mask. The higher the filtration level, the less likely it is for virus-causing particles to permeate the mask, making viruses less likley to spread.
- A more fitted mask helps to stop virus-causing particles from seeping out of or into the mask through open spaces on the top, bottom, and sides of the mask.
It also important to note that masked are only fully effective when used with other proper safety measures, such as social distancing, hand-washing, and avoiding touching the face. Masks can be classified as medical-grade face masks or cloth masks. We’ll start with how to select the best cloth face masks.
Cloth Face Masks
The general public has been advised to use cloth masks and reserve respirators and surgical masks for medical first responders. Cloth masks vary greatly in efficiency depending on numerous variables, including the type of material used, the thickness of the material, whether or not a filter is present, how well they fit on the face, and more. Research on how well cloth masks work to filter microscopic particles and slow the spread of viruses is very limited. Here is what we do know:
- Cloth masks are not as effective as N95 respirators.
- Cloth masks, if used correctly, are potentially more effective at slowing the spread of a virus than not wearing a mask.
- Some cloth masks have better filtration than others. A recent study from Wake Forest Baptist Health showed that the filtration levels of fabric varied from as low as 1% to anywhere up to 79%, which is higher than a surgical mask.
- Cloth masks can be made more effective by inserting a filter.
- Cloth masks are more effective if they are well fitted to the face.
- Tightly woven fabric is ideal for cloth face masks.
- The ideal cloth face mask creates a balance between filtration and breathability.
- Cloth masks should be constructed with at least 2 layers of fabric.
- Cloth masks can easily be purchased or made to reserve respirators and surgical masks for medical professionals.
How to Choose The Best Cloth Face Masks
Many have chosen to make their own cloth face masks, while others have decided to purchase one. Whatever you choose to do, there are few questions you need to ask yourself to ensure your face mask is effective:
How many layers of fabric are in the mask?
Masks should have at least 2 layers of fabric to be effective. Studies have shown masks with only one layer of fabric have significantly less filtration than those with two layers. Dr. Scott Siegel, who recently led a study at Wake Forest Baptist Health to test the filtration level of different fabrics, suggests using a mask that is thick enough to block light when held in front of the sun.
What is the mask made of?
Fabric and construction make a huge difference when determining the effectiveness of a cloth face mask. The best face masks have built-in filtration by way of tightly woven cotton, linen, silk, or polyester.
Can I breathe through the mask?
A mask may provide excellent filtration, but that doesn’t mean much if you can’t breathe through it. If the mask is not breathable, more air will escape through the gaps on the sides and top, making it less effective. Make sure the mask is breathable.
Is this mask comfortable?
Is the mask smooth and soft against the skin or is rough and scratchy? The mask may be on all day, so it is important that it feels good against the delicate skin on the face.
How well does this mask fit?
Try to make or purchase a mask with a good fit to better block virus-causing particles.
Is this mask washable?
Masks must be sanitized after each wear to be effective. The easiest way to sanitize a mask is to put it in the washer at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Masks that are not washable, such as masks with a metal piece that cannot be removed, will have to washed by hand, which is more difficult.
Can a filter be inserted in this mask?
Filters make masks more effective, so it is important that the mask has a place where a filter can be inserted, such as an interior pocket. Any filter helps here, even a simple coffee filter.
Is there a water resistant layer?
Ideally, a mask will have a water resistant layer to help block droplets more effectively.
Cloth Face Mask Recommendations
Even though many brands are now selling face masks and there are hundreds of DIY face mask tutorials, it is important that the mask you end up meets all the above criteria to ensure it offers as much filtration, comfort, and breathablity as possible. It also doesn’t hurt if your face mask is stylish! Read below to see the best face masks to buy, and easy but effective DIY masks that anyone can make.
The Best Face Masks to Buy
If you are planning on purchasing a mask, we recommend the Cardani cloth masks because they meet all the critera above. They are made with an interior and exterior layer of fabric with an inner tightly woven poly-layer that has been treated with a water-resistant finish grade 4, which minimizes moisture penetrating the mask. This inner layer also adds structure, making it easier to breathe. It is well fitted around the face and has adjustable ear straps to get a better fit and keep your ear comfortable. These masks feature a double of either high quality, high thread-count, and super soft organic cotton or bamboo viscose. They are washable, and have a pocket for a filter to be inserted. Plus they come in lots of colors and patterns for men, women, and children. Shop these masks here.
Watch the video below to learn more about these masks.
The Best No-Sew DIY Face Masks to Make
If you are planning on making a face mask, we recommend creating it with thick, tightly woven cotton fabric, which performed very well in a recent test conducted by Wake Forest Baptist Health. Batik and woodblock cotton headscarves and bandanas are a fantastic option here. If you don’t know how to sew, watch our quick tutorials below to learn how to make a face mask using just a scarf or bandana and elastic hair ties, or our T-shirt face mask tutorial. All of our tutorials feature at least 2 layers of fabric, and a pocket to insert a filter.
1. How to Make a Bandana Face Mask for Coronavirus | DIY and No-Sew
2. How to Make a Scarf Face Mask for Coronavirus | DIY and No-Sew
Watch the video below to learn how to quickly and easily turn a scarf into a face mask for coronavirus.Shop cotton scarves here.
3. How to Make a T-Shirt Face Mask for Coronavirus | DIY and No-Sew
Watch the video below to learn how to make a face mask with a t-shirt and scissors for coronavirus. A filter can also be added for additional protection.
Medical Grade Face Masks
Medical grade masks are shown to be effective and offer excellent filtration, though not without downsides. Medical grade face masks can be categorized into two main categories: respirators and surgical masks.
The N95 respirators offers the best filtration and a very good fit, making N95 repirators the most effective masks available.
- N95 masks filter 95% of particles, which is why they are called N95.
- They have an excellent fit and create a seal around the face.
The N95 mask does have its cons. While effective, these heavy duty masks are designed as a one-time use only item. The N95 medical masks can also be uncomfortable and make it difficult to breathe. These masks are medical grade, and should be reserved for first responders and medical personel who are at high risk. They should not be purchased by the general public due to the limited supply available.
PM2.5 Surgical Masks
The PM2.5 surgical masks were originally designed for those living in areas with high air pollution levels.
- PM2.5 masks provide very good filtration (62%-65%), though not as much as N95 masks.
- The fit on surgical masks is oftentimes loose and does not create a seal around the face. However, the design of these masks primarily sends air upwards to minimize the spread of microscopic particles. Additionally, they typically feature a metal piece at the top that can formed to the bridge of the nose for a more secure fit.
The PM2.5 face masks are uncomfortable, and only designed to be effectively used once. Additionally, the fit does not create a complete seal around the wearer’s mouth and nose; wearing this face mask in close contact to others may expose the wearer to more airborne particles. Like the N95 masks, the PM2.5 masks should be reserved for those in high-risk situations, such as medical professionals and first responders.
Face Mask Filters
Adding a filter to your cloth face mask adds an extra layer of protection and filtration. However, some of the filters available are conterfeit and are not as effective as authentic filters. There are a few things to consider when searching for face mask filters online.
What are face mask filters made of?
Most of the face mask filters available online are advertised as PM2.5 filters; many of these filters, however, do not provide the claimed level of filtration. Filters are made using nonwoven melt-blown fabric. Unlike the woven and knitted fabrics that are typically used to make clothing, nonwoven melt-blown fabric is made using hot, fast blowing air. This creates layered sheets of bonded, tangled fibers, making a mesh-like material that is ideal for filtration. Manufacturing melt-blown fabric requires the use of specific machines that are designed to produce nonwoven fabrics; it can take 6 months or longer to make one of these complicated, expensive machines. For this reason, many of the filters available do not actually contain melt-blown fabric.
Where are filters made? Are filters made in China?
Because creating melt-blown fabric requires the use of specialized machinery, the vast majority of filters are made in China. After recent news of conterfeit 3M masks arriving in the U.S. from China, many consumers are concerned about purchasing filters made in China; however, nearly all medical masks and filters, including legitimate masks, are made in China.
How do I know which filters are effective? Where do I buy face masks?
While there are some regulations in place concerning the manufacturing and shipment of masks and filters, not all filters available online are legitimate. We recommend purchasing face masks from trusted companies who have done the research to ensure you receive authentic filters that were manufactured in a sterile facility. We do not recommend purchasing filters on Amazon, as buying directly from China increases the likelihood that regulations have been circumvented, and the filters are conterfeit.
How much do filters cost?
The price of filters can vary. Because melt-blown fabric is in such high demand world-wide and making it is so specialized, there is a global shortage of melt-blown fabric. This has made the price of masks and filters containing melt-blown fabric significantly higher. Be wary of filters with too-good-to-true prices, as they likely do not contain melt-blown fabric.
How many times can I wear a filter?
Like medical masks, filters are single-use and disposable. For maximum protection, you should dispose of your filter before you wash your mask.
Home-Made Face Mask Filters
Filters for face masks are in short supply. If filters are not available, you can actually create home-made filters using ordinary items you may already have. DIY filters vary greatly in effectiveness, but they may still add additional filtration to your face mask. Many wonder which filters are safe to use in face masks; we will answer your questions below.
Coffee Filters for Face Masks
The CDC recommends using a coffee filter in your cloth face mask to add extra filtration. Coffee filters are safe to use as filter, even if they come into direct contact with your face. They provide a lower level of filtration than some other options, but they are easily available and still improve the effectiveness of your face mask. If you are using coffe filters in your face mask, make sure to use at least three layers.
HVAC, HEPA, and Air Conditioner Filters for Face Masks
Designed to act as filters for household appliances, HVAC and HEPA filters have shown to provide excellent filtration; because of this, many are using these filters in their cloth face masks. However, it is unclear if they are safe to use.
- HVAC and HEPA filters can contain fiberglass, which is not safe to breathe.
- Even if they do not contain fiberglass, companies who create these these filters have cautioned against using them in face masks.
- If you do choose to take the risk to wear these filters in your face mask, make sure there is a secure layer of fabric between your face and the filter to protect you from fiberglass and potentially harmful chemicals.
Vacuum Cleaner Bags
Like air conditioner filters, vacuum cleaner bags provide excellent filtration; however, they may also contain fiberglass, making them potentially dangerous. It is also important to note that vacuum cleaner bags are difficult to breathe through. If you choose to take the risk to use a vacuum cleaner bag as a filter in your cloth face mask, make sure there is a layer of fabric separating between the bag and your face to protect you.
How to Wear and Put On a Face Mask
How to Put on A Face Mask Correctly
- Before putting on your face mask, be sure to clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Pick up the mask by the ear straps.
- Place a clean mask on your face. If wearing a PM2.5 mask or filter, ensure that the colored side of the mask/filter is facing away from you.
- Secure the mask using the ties or ear straps.
- If the mask has a bendable top, press over the nose with thumb and index finger to secure.
- Enure the mask covers your nose and mouth and is secure under the chin.
- Avoid touching your mask while wearing it. If you must touch you mask, thoroughly wash your hands before and after.
How to Remove a Mask Correctly
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Do not touch the inside of the mask over your mouth and nose, which may be contaminated.
- Remove the ear tabs or straps and take the mask off your face.
- Dispose of the mask, or wash the mask, ideally in the washing machine at 140 degrees.
- Wash your hands.
How Do I know if my Face Mask Fits?
Getting used to wearing a face mask can be difficult, and it’s not always easy to know if it fits. Here’s what to look for when determining whether or not your face masks fits:
- Masks should be snug to the face to create a better seal, but should not be tight enough to restrict breathing.
- The fit should be tight enough on the bridge of the nose ensure the mask stays positioned on the face comfortably.
- The ear bands must be tight enough to ensure the mask stays in place.
- A face mask must cover both the nose and mouth to be effective.
- Face masks do not necessarily need to cover the chin, however, if your mask covers your chin it will create a more complete seal around the face.
- It is OK if there are gaps around the edges of the mask.
How Do I Wear a Face Mask With Glasses?
If you are a glasses-wearer, you have likely noticed that your glasses get foggy when you’re wearing a face mask. This is because wearing a mask sends your breath through the gaps in the mask. There are a couple of things you can do to help prevent your glasses from fogging up:
- Make sure your face mask is tight enough and fits well. This will help to minimize gaps around the eye area.
- Strategically place your glasses on top of the mask to block the gaps under the eyes and make your mask more fitted to your face. It will take some trial and error, but once you discover the correct position, this is a very effective way to keep your glasses from fogging.
Do Masks Protect You or Others?
According to the CDC, the reason to wear a face mask is not necessarily to protect one’s self from infection, but to contain the virus and prevent those who are already infected from spreading transmitting it to others. That is to say, the offical opinion is only the infected need to wear face masks; the problem is we do not know who is infected. As stated, coronavirus is often asymptomatic. The recommendation to wear face masks is a precaution that advises us to act as if we are already infected with coronavirus, but are asymptomatic. The bottom line: the advice to wear a mask is meant to protect others in the event the wearer of the mask is infected with coronavirus.
Research is limited on this topic, and it hard to know how well face masks (excluding N95 respirators) protect the wearer from contracting a virus. However, we do know they offer some level of filtration. While many face masks cannot block out ultra-microscopic droplets, they may be able to block larger droplets, which are thought to be the primary transmitter of coronavirus. If the wearer also practices proper social distancing and sanitation recommendations, a good face mask could add an additional level of protection.
To Sum Up….
Staying home is only part of the solution for “flattening the curve”. Many of us still need to go to work and run the occasional errand, such as getting groceries or checking the mail. To protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19, be sure to continually wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and wear a mask to protect yourself. We hope all our readers and their families/friends remain healthy and safe during this time. Please let us know if you have any other tips or questions in the comments section below. While a face mask cannot necessarily prevent you from catching a virus, wearing a mask in combination with other saftety measures for coronavirus can effectively help you do your part to flatten the curve.