Which Face Mask Material Works Best?
The maskSAFE is just one part of the equation when it comes to equipping yourself and your family for maximum mask safety. Think about it – if the tool inside your face mask case isn’t blocking droplets, then it doesn’t matter how well you protect that mask. You and your family could still be at risk.
So, let’s look at what the research says about which mask materials are most effective.
What’s Your Rank?
Researchers at The University of Arizona tested a number of different materials to see which ones were best at providing a barrier against virus infection. They tested materials found in commercially produced masks, and also common materials found in homemade PPE.
The biggest takeaways from this research supported what we already know: wearing any mask, made of any kind of material, decreases your chance of coronavirus infection when compared to not wearing a mask at all.
Another discovery that shouldn’t shock anyone: N95 masks and surgical masks are the most effective. Yes, the medical professionals and other brave frontline workers are wearing the best gear. As they should be!
Now here’s where the research takes a turn. The next most effective material for reducing risk of exposure is… a vacuum filter? That’s right! Their tests showed that a regular vacuum filter, inserted into the pocket of a cloth mask, “reduced infection risk by 83% for a 30-second exposure and 58% for a 20-minute exposure.”
N95 masks, surgical masks, and vacuum filters made up this study’s top tier of mask materials, and the next tier of filtering materials included tea towels, fabrics that blended cotton with other fibers, and antimicrobial pillowcases. These are all recommended materials if you’re making your own mask.
The researchers at the University of Arizona found that scarves and t-shirts, two other materials often used for homemade masks, still provided more protection than going mask-less, but the decrease in infection risk was minimal.
The Touch, the Feel, of Cotton
The experts at MIT Medical have particular insights into the efficacy of cotton materials and cotton blends.
One important factor in choosing a material to protect against the coronavirus is to pick a fabric with a tight weave. For instance, high-thread-count cotton (600 TPI) provides a far superior barrier when compared to low-thread-count quilter’s cotton (80 TPI). The improvement in performance applies to both large and small contaminating particles.
The protection afforded by a cotton mask improves even more when a layer of cotton is combined with a layer consisting of a second material. The MIT team found that hybrid masks, the ones made of mixed materials, ”outperform all other two- or three-layer masks made of a single material, they were superior to N95 masks for particles smaller than 300 nanometers and only slightly inferior for larger particles.”
We’re not medical professionals, but the research seems to recommend multi-layer masks combining a high-thread-count cotton along with a second material.
No matter the mask you choose, you need to make sure that it fits snugly, all the way around your nose and mouth. Any gaps are openings for contaminating particles to get in or out.
And even after you select the right material and get the right fit, you need to keep your mask clean! Wash it regularly and keep it protected in your maskSAFE or maskSAFE Pocket. When you protect your mask, you protect yourself, and you protect us all!
- the maskSAFE Family.