User's guide to facemasks - do's and dont's
To get the most out of your mask, make sure you wear it correctly and at the right time. These may seem simple – but let’s review.
How to put a mask on and take one off
- Always wash your hands first.
- Don’t touch the fabric part of the mask — that’s essentially the germ filter, and you don’t want to spread whatever germs it has trapped.
- Use the ear loops or ties to secure your mask and to remove it. The coverage area should go from near the bridge of your nose to down under your chin and stretch about halfway or more toward your ears.
- Pull the ties and loops so that it fits as snugly as possible against your face. If your mask has pleats, the folded side should be down.
Don’t try to cheat the mask
We know it’s tempting to want to “take a break” from your mask. But don’t try and cheat the mask – you need to avoid:
- Pulling the mask down and resting on the neck.
- Taking one ear loop off to talk on the phone. Type your password into face recognition phones and sign ons whenever possible.
- Positioning the mask underneath your nose so that your nostrils are uncovered. Nose inside the mask – or it’s not really working.
All can make the mask far less effective in protecting against germs.
What material makes the best homemade mask?
Homemade fabric masks:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we cover our faces with a scarf or homemade fabric mask when we are in public. The effectiveness of homemade masks varies depending on the fabric used, the style and the fit.
If you’re making your own – here are some tips to help you make the most effective one possible.
Picking a material to make your own mask
Remember, any face covering is better than no face covering. While some people are experimenting with homemade masks using air filters and vacuum bags, the average person doesn’t need that level of protection if you’re practicing social distancing and leaving the house only for essentials.
Given that there is so much variability in fabrics, the best advice is to start with a light test. Hold the fabric or mask up to the light and see how much light gets through. The tighter the weave, the less light you’ll see, and the more protection you’ll get. Test the fabric over your face to make sure you can still breathe through it, though.
- T-shirts: Most of us have an old T-shirt we could cut up into a no-sew mask. It’s one of the most convenient fabrics to use, but there is a lot of variability in how well T-shirt material performs in lab tests. At the Virginia Tech, a single-layer of an old cotton T-shirt captured 20 percent of particles down to 0.3 microns. It captured 50 percent of particles down to 1 micron. A 2013 University of Cambridge study tested two layers of T-shirt which captured about 70 percent of particles down to 1 micron.
- Cotton quilting fabric: This is the high-thread-count cotton fabric preferred by quilters for its durability. In studies at Wake Forest Baptist Health, masks made with quilting fabric rivaled the filtration efficiency of surgical masks.
- Tea towels: Tea towels became a popular source of mask material after an August 2013 study from researchers at University of Cambridge found the material compared well to a medical mask at the 1 micron particle size.
- Pillow cases: Pillow cases are a good option for sewers who don’t have other fabric. In the 2013 study, 2 layers of pillow case fabric tested close to the efficiency of a surgical mask at the 1 micron standard, but in a study at Missouri University of Science & Technology, it took four layers of 600-thread-count pillow case material to achieve that level of protection at the 0.3 micron standard.
- Flannel pajamas: A two-layer mask of flannel and cotton was one of the best tested in the Wake Forest Baptist study and rivaled the efficiency of a surgical mask
- Coffee filters and paper towels: The C.D.C. suggests inserting a coffee filter into your mask for extra protection. Missouri University of Science & Technology scientists found that using three coffee filters made it difficult to breathe. Adding a layer of paper towel in between two layers of fabric could make your homemade mask more efficient
- Scarves and bandannas: When it comes to ease of use, you can’t beat a scarf or bandanna to cover your face. But bandannas are thin and, even folded over four times, don’t offer much protection. Scarves may be better but can be thick and hot. Both are better than nothing.
- Filters and vacuum bags: Scientists trying to find effective alternatives for medical workers have cut up layers of air filters and tested HEPA vacuum bags. Both can work quite well, but both have significant downsides. Air filters, when cut up, can release fibers that can be dangerous to inhale, so the filter material should be sandwiched between layers of heavy cotton fabric if used in a mask. Vacuum bags are good filters but not that breathable. Plus, some brands of vacuum bags may contain fiberglass so should not be used to cover your face.
How to Take Care of a Mask
Now that you’ve got a mask, you need to take care of it. Here’s some advice about washing and reusing your mask.
The C.D.C. says fabric masks should be “washed routinely.” Most experts wash theirs daily in a machine or a sink, just using regular laundry soap. You can use the dryer or let it air dry. Although it’s not necessary, you can also go over it with a hot iron for a full assault on any germs that might remain.