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What materials make the best face masks?

During a global pandemic, we tend to acquire new skills. You may have lost preserving food or baking bread, but one thing you have probably considered is how to make face masks that offer protection when you need it. Whether you are facing the current COVID-19 crisis 2020 or just want to create your own face mask for home projects, it is important to note that different materials offer different amounts of protection against airborne materials.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing face masks publicly during this pandemic. In addition to choosing the right material to construct your mask with, CDC guidelines also recommend masks that fit tightly but comfortably to the face, secured with ties or earlobes, include multiple fabric layers, allow for breathing without limitations and be able to washed and machine dried without damage or change in shape.

Many people who are contagious may have no idea that they are because they have no symptoms, so even a light cloth mask is worth wearing. While these thinner coatings may not provide much protection for the wearer against viral particles, they can help reduce the risk of the person spreading the corona virus if they have it.

Here are some standard materials you probably have around the house and some tips on the level of protection they can offer as a mask.


While you may not have cotton screws lying around the house, you probably have cotton clothes that will do the job. Look at the contents of your flannel t-shirts and pajamas. You can also use bandanas or layers of 600-count cotton pillows.

There are many different ways to assemble these masks, but the important thing to remember is to use at least two layers of material while ensuring that the mask still offers adequate breathability and a good fit.

In at least one study, the most effective cotton masks were found to be constructed of two layers of high-quality, heavyweight "quilter cotton." Equally effective alternatives are two-layer masks made with thick batik fabric or a double-layer mask with an inner layer of flannel and outer layer of cotton.

 vacuum cleaner filter [19659007] Hepa filter vacuum bags or oven filter

It is likely that you did not take HEPA filters into account for your face masks, but it seems like an obvious choice when the idea is out. Researchers have verified that filters are one of the most effective alternatives available. Yang Wang, assistant professor of environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, conducted several studies in a controlled environment and found that HVAC filters with allergy reduction worked best, capturing 89 percent of particles with one layer and 94 percent with two layers.

A similar furnace filter captured 75 percent of the particles with two layers, but required six layers to achieve 95 percent. The disadvantage of the filters is a lack of breathability when used as the only material, together with the risk of inhaling small particles from the filter. To solve this problem, Wang suggests filtering the filter between two pieces of high quality cotton.

3-D Printed

If you have a 3D printer, an option might be to print a mask. At least one company provides the print file for free here . You can erase the printed mask with a coffee filter, HEPA vacuum bag or cotton fabric for an extra layer of security.

Light test

If you are not sure about the quality of your materials, try the light test. Light a candle directly through the material. The less light that filters through, the better because it means that the material is dense enough to hold viruses and other particles. Again, just be sure that breathing is not limited by the density of the fabric.

 coffee filter close up

Coffee filter

In tests, coffee filters offered some protection, but even with several layers, does not offer a reliable level of safety. In addition, they are not washable. However, they are easily accessible and better than nothing, so making a multi-layer mask is an alternative in the absence of preferred materials.

Other Pointers

Making your own mask is fairly quick and easy, especially if you are skilled with a sewing machine. Follow CDC's guidelines to ensure a good fit, but keep in mind that masks do more to protect others if you carry a virus than they do to protect you from anything. With this in mind, it is still best to stay at home or exercise at a physical distance if you have to go out in public.

Also make sure to put your mask through the laundry after each excursion and place it directly in the washing machine when you arrive home. When the pandemic hits the rearview mirror, your delivery of masks works when you dye wood, grind planks or even cut onions in the kitchen.

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