Millions of Americans now don masks in public to protect themselves — and others — from the spread of the coronavirus.
But some materials are more effective than others at keeping COVID-19 at bay.
The best mask material
Turns out the answer is actually a combination of two fabrics — cotton and either natural silk or chiffon, according to the American Chemical Society.
The ACS says working together, the combination can filter out the aerosol coronavirus particles that cause COVID-19.
The coronavirus is most likely to infect you if you are exposed to respiratory droplets you encounter when an infected person expels the droplets through a cough or sneeze — or merely by speaking close to you or even just breathing on you.
The smallest of these droplets, called aerosols, are so tiny that they can slip through openings left by some cloth fibers.
Researchers at the University of Chicago set out to discover which materials are most likely to block such aerosols effectively. After producing particles in the lab and using a fan to spray them across several cloth samples, they found that one combination worked best. According to the ACS:
“One layer of a tightly woven cotton sheet combined with two layers of polyester-spandex chiffon — a sheer fabric often used in evening gowns — filtered out the most aerosol particles (80–99%, depending on particle size), with performance close to that of an N95 mask material.”
The researchers also found that using natural silk or flannel instead of chiffon — or using a cotton quilt with cotton-polyester batting — was just about as effective.
Tightly woven fabrics such as cotton serve as a mechanical barrier to particles, while fabrics that hold a static charge — including some types of chiffon and natural silk — serve as an electrostatic barrier.
The best mask fit
Improperly wearing your mask, however, can negate much of the protection offered by the combination of fabrics. According to the ACS:
“A 1% gap reduced the filtering efficiency of all masks by half or more, emphasizing the importance of a properly fitted mask.”
Making your own mask
If you cannot find satisfactory masks on local store shelves — or if you simply want to take matters into your own hands — Michaels is offering instructions, and a list of supplies, for creating your own DIY mask or even a face shield.
Stop by the Michaels website to learn more about making your own mask or face shield.
For more on protecting yourself from the dangers of the coronavirus on fabrics, check out “How to Get the Coronavirus Out of Your Clothes.”