Now that face masks are recommended — or required, depending on where you live — I’m starting to see them offered just about everywhere.
Sure, I’ve got plenty of friends who are selling them. But I’m seeing ads for them on plenty of apps and social media. They’re flooding sites like Etsy. Even international retailers, like AliExpress, are trying to tempt me with cheap face masks.
First of all, it’s worth noting that something is better than nothing. A cloth face mask is not foolproof protection.
However, the coronavirus is easily transmitted by respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing, speaking, and even laughing. A mask is another important layer in addition to physical distancing and hand hygiene.
So, how do you know which face masks to purchase? Are any of them effective?
If the mask doesn’t fit properly, it’s not going to be effective. It needs to have a snug fit without big gaps, and you definitely don’t want it to be so big that it’s falling off.
On the other hand, you also don’t want it to be so tight that it’s uncomfortable, or makes it hard to breathe. It’s useless if you have to keep fiddling with it, or if you have to take it off to catch your breath.
For a face mask to be effective, it needs to be made out of at least 2 layers of a tightly woven cotton fabric. The tighter the weave, or the higher the thread count, the more effective it will be at blocking respiratory droplets.
Avoid fully synthetic fabrics, like polyester. It’s not that it’ll be less effective at blocking droplets, but synthetic materials will make it harder for you to breathe. Plus, it might make your face kind of sweaty!
Some face masks have filter pockets, while others do not. Being able to add another layer is definitely useful. However, a filter pocket isn’t essential.
The CDC recommends adding coffee filters to homemade masks. I’ve seen a study or two done on the effectiveness of blue shop towels, too.
You’ll find plenty of information across blogs and social media from people using denim, canvas, bra pads, pantyhose, and even fabric from reusable grocery bags as filters. Just keep in mind that we don’t have any evidence of the effectiveness of these materials.
And be wary of suggestions to use HEPA filters or other similar materials. These kinds of materials could have fiberglass in them, which would be very dangerous to inhale.
Hopefully, these tips will help you purchase a few face masks.
Or, if you’re feeling crafty, there are plenty of tutorials and patterns out there on how to make your own at home.