Let’s talk about face masks….

Many localities are going to Universal Masking recommendations. For example – as of today, my workplace is requiring everyone to wear surgical face masks. Use of face masks has been shown to prevent person to person transmission – so I know we’ve seen all so much information about masks: when to wear them, how to make them, why not to hoard them.

There’s a lot of good information out there, and some not so good, so today’s blog post will focus on some of the science behind face masks and proper care.

  1. Starting with the proper way to put masks on and take them off to avoid spreading of germs to yourself (or others).

To don (put the mask on):

  • Perform hand hygiene (wash with soap and water or use hand sanitizer) before touching the mask.
  • Touch the edges, loops and or/ties only – never the inside of the mask.
  • If the mask has loops, loop the elastic around your ears
  • If the mask has ties, tie bows around your head for easy removal. Make it’s secure
  • Perform hand hygiene

Fit is important – try to adjust it so that there are minimal gaps around the nose, sides and chin area.

To doff (take the mask off)

  • Perform hand hygiene
  • Remove ear loops or undo bow
  • Using ties or loops, place the mask in a paper bag to keep the mask for future use (The paper bag lets it air out)
  • If you have a cloth mask – wash frequently with warm, soapy water and dry.
  1. Best materials for making masks at home

Supplies of surgical masks and N95 masks have been prioritized for health care workers, as they should be – so there are many nice patterns on the internet for making your own face mask. Yesterday, I shared no-sew mask making instructions that will do in a pinch here. But all these posts led me to think – are some fabrics found at home that work better than others?

Luckily for us, a group of researchers asked this very thing and published their results in a 2013 scientific paper in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. The article can be found at: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S1935789313000438 but here are the most important parts:

  • The material used for surgical masks filters out  around 96% of airborne particles
  • Vacuum cleaner bags were almost as good (they filtered out around 94.4% of particles)
  • The humble Tea towel did OK too – filtering 83.24% of particles in their tests.
  • Cotton blend t-shirts filtered out around 75% of particles and 100% cotton T-shirt filtered out around 69% of particles
  • Antimicrobial pillowcases were about 66% effective while regular pillowcases, linen and silk scarves were slightly less effective (around 60-62% effective in filtering out particles).

The really important thing to consider is fit though – none of the homemade face masks tested by this study fit as well as the surgical mask (most fit half as well) – making the surgical mask over 3 times better at blocking transmission of airborne particles than homemade masks.

The conclusion was that a homemade mask was not as good a choice as a manufactured surgical mask, but it would be better than no protection.

So… given this deep dive into the science of home mask making – how can you make your homemade masks more effective?

  • Try sewing or inserting a thin flexible wire (like a pipe cleaner or extra long bag tie) into the nose section of your mask.
  • Include lots of pleats for a good fit and make sure it fits well around your mouth and chin
  • Include a coffee filter as an extra layer in your cloth masks (just pop inside, don’t in sew as you should remove these and dispose of after every use).
  • The CDC has instructions for doing this in a no sew mask here:


Stay crafty and stay safe my friends!


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