What are the best fabrics and materials for antiviral face masks? In the effort to slow the spread of Coronavirus, CDC now recommends that the general public should wear cloth face coverings. These are non-medical face masks made using materials such as fabric, cloth, and scarves. However, when it comes to making your mask, you might be wondering about the best fabrics and materials that you can use.
What are the best fabrics and materials for antiviral face masks? The best fabrics and materials that you can use for making antiviral face masks should be dense enough to capture viral particles, but breathable enough so that you can wear them comfortably. According to a study made by researchers at Cambridge University, the pillowcase and the 100% cotton t-shirt are among the best materials for making homemade cloth face covering.
This article does not contain any product recommendations. If you are interested in purchasing face masks, here’s our buying guide with products.
Note: The study made by the researchers at Cambridge University tests the efficacy of homemade masks and how they would protect in an influenza pandemic. Several household materials were evaluated for the capacity to block bacterial and viral aerosols. The study offers some conclusions potentially relevant to the current coronavirus pandemic
What are other fabrics and materials used in making a homemade face mask? How effective are they? Are two-layered DIY masks more effective? Check out the rest of the post below for more information.
Best Materials for DIY Antiviral Face Masks
According to the same study published by the researchers at the Cambridge University, the vacuum cleaner bag, dish towel, cotton blend t-shirt, 100% cotton t-shirt, pillowcase, silk, linen, and scarves are some of the best materials that you can use when making DIY antiviral face masks. See to it that you balance the filtration and breathability of the face mask when choosing a material. For instance, vacuum bags are great for filtration but they make breathing difficult. Cotton t-shirts are breathable but they lack a high level of filtration.
Neal Langerman, a chemical safety expert said that the permeability of household materials can vary widely and in unpredictable ways, making it hard to determine which material is best for a homemade face mask. One factor to consider is how tightly a material is woven as well as the type of fibers used.
According to Yang Wang, an aerosols researcher at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, “The difficulty is that different fabrics have different specifications, and there seem to be so many options on the market.”
Check out this post on how to make a face mask with rubber bands. In the post, we have shared tips on how you can create a face mask that will fit in your face and will not easily fall off by using rubber bands into it. We have provided different methods of making face masks with rubber bands that you can follow.
Consider the Ability of The Fabric to Block Viruses
Viruses are much smaller as compared to bacteria and those that measure less than one micron in size can escape most fabrics. According to Dr. Erum Ilyas, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the protective clothing line AmberNoon, various household materials have been studied to determine their ability to block viruses. Choosing the right material can determine the best chances of blocking viruses and also ensure comfort. A study of various household fabrics to block the spread of influenza showed that cotton and polyester blends are the most effective out of all the household materials while maintaining breathability.
A study about the filtration performance of cloth masks and common fabric materials against 20–1000 nm size particles states that “The use of fabric materials may provide only minimal levels of respiratory protection to a wearer against virus-size submicron aerosol particles (e.g., droplet nuclei). It is partly because fabric materials show only marginal filtration performance against virus-size particles when sealed around the edges. Face seal leakage will further decrease the respiratory protection offered by fabric materials.”
✅ Tweet – Effectiveness of Household Materials at Capturing Virus-Sized Particles
Dr. C Michael Gibson shared a tweet about how effective some household materials as compared to surgical masks. In the data that he has provided, it shows that the vacuum cleaning bag, dish towel, and t-shirt can capture the most particles.
Cambridge scientists tested 0.02 micron Bacteriophage MS2 particles (5 times smaller than the coronavirus) & compared homemade masks made of different materials to surgical masks.
Surgical mask blocks 89%
Vacuum cleaning bag 85%
Dish Towel 73%
T shirt 70%#macgyvercare pic.twitter.com/RFEbhH1V5D
— C. Michael Gibson MD (@CMichaelGibson) March 17, 2020
We have also written an article about how to make a face mask with hair ties. In the article, we have gathered the different materials that are used to make ties for face masks. We have also shared tutorials and patterns on how to make face masks with hair ties. Check out the articles to learn the many ways to make face masks using various materials for hair ties.
Some Materials Are Better Than Others
When it comes to preventing particles from penetrating through the mask, some materials are better than others. This will have to depend on how tightly-woven the fabric is and whether it is a good and tight fit. A study done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 2010 tested how well tiny particles can penetrate different materials like scarves, towels, cotton t-shirts, and sweatshirts. According to the study, sweatshirts offer slightly better protection as compared to t-shirts against the particles. They can block about 20-30% of particles as compared to 14% of the t-shirt. Hanes brand sweatshirts were found to be the most effective and can block 43-60% of particles.
Moreover, other factors like how often the materials are worn or washed can also influence their effectiveness. Take note that medical masks are designed to be single-use and disposed of after they may have come into contact with viruses and bacteria. Reusing the DIY face masks without washing it could reduce its effectiveness. According to the CDC guidelines, cloth face masks should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use. You can use a washing machine in properly washing a face covering.
Make sure that the face mask is secured around your face by using elastics as ear loops. Check out this post about the best elastic for face masks and find out the different kinds of elastic that you can use in making a mask. We have also shared tutorials on how to make a mask with elastics.
Two-Layered DIY Antiviral Face Masks Are Not Effective
When it comes to filtration effectiveness, is it better to double up two layers of fabric? A group of scientists tested virus-size particles against double-layer materials like a pillowcase, dish towel, and 100% cotton shirt fabrics. As a result, the double layers are not that effective. For instance, the double-layer pillowcase captured 1% more particles, while the double-layer shirt captured just 2% more particles. On the other hand, the double-layer dishcloth boosted performance by 14%, which makes it as effective as the surgical mask.
The result of the study states that the dish towel is the top-performing material. On the other hand, the researchers did not choose it as the best material for a DIY face mask. The reason for this is breathability. While the dishtowel captured the most particles, it is also the hardest to breathe through. With the two layers of a dish towel, it is twice as hard to breathe.
How Effective Are Homemade Antiviral Face Masks?
A study in 2013 looked at the ability of homemade masks made from cotton t-shirt materials to prevent the spread of influenza shows that they are about one third as effective as surgical masks. However, they still significantly reduce the number of microorganisms expelled. It is not clear from the study how effective the masks are when it comes to protecting people from breathing in particles that could contain the virus.
If you are interested in doing a homemade face mask, check out this post about face mask tutorials and patterns. We have shared 21 methods in making face masks. In the post, we have provided tutorials for sewn and no-sew face masks for every skill level.
How Can I Make An Effective Face Mask?
If you are going to make an effective mask, make sure that it forms a snug seal over the mouth and nose so that the particles cannot get in through the gaps. According to Dr. Shawn Nasseri, you can create a three-layer mask using silk for the outer layer, a middle layer of a thick or tightly woven material like cotton, and comfortable cotton fabric. As much as possible, you can skip wool and other fabrics that can cause allergy.
If you are not that keen on sewing, there are also no-sew mask options. According to Dr. Jerome Adams of the U.S. Surgeon General, you can create a simple cloth face cover with the use of a t-shirt and two rubber bands.
✅ Video – How to Make Your Own Face Covering
In the video below, Dr. Jerome Adams demonstrates how to use a t-shirt and two rubber bands to make a cloth face covering. It is an easy face mask to do for those who are not good at sewing or want to have a face mask in a fast and easy way.
We have also written this post about polyester and if it is a good material for a face mask. Check out the article for more information about the topic.
How Effective Are Baclavas or Scarves?
According to Rachel Noble, a public health microbiologist at UNC at Chapel Hill, “balaclavas and other warm-weather gear designed to cover your nose and mouth is unlikely to be suitable for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Because they’re designed to be as easy to breathe through as possible, they tend to be made of loose fabrics.” The best choice is a tightly-woven fabric or something that’s approximately the density of the weave of a bandana or a high-quality bedsheet.
Check out this post about how to make a face mask with hair ties for more tutorials and patterns. We have shared different methods to make a face mask using hair ties. It is a great alternative to use if you do not have rubber bands or elastics. Hair ties will serve as the ear loop that secures the mask on your face.
You need to choose the best fabrics and materials when making DIY antiviral face masks. Many choices are available. According to studies, some of the best materials include pillowcases and 100% cotton t-shirt. These materials provide high filtration and are also breathable. Vacuum cleaning bags and dish towels also provide high filtration against small particles, but they are hard to breathe through. Lastly, avoid scarves and baklavas that are made of loose fabrics because they provide less filtration against small particles. When choosing a material, it is ideal to choose one that offers high-filtration and is also comfortable to wear. Thank you for reading!