Should we listen to the medical officers of health, who up until recently in North America were telling us not to bother wearing non-medical face masks ?
Because now the tune has changed, at least in Canada, where the use of face masks in public is being recommended by those whom our politicians have turned over our economy and freedoms.
Asian countries and other nations like the Czech Republic have been able to show that the spread of Covid-19 does seem to slow down when masks are widely adopted or mandated.
SHOULD YOU CUT UP THAT T-SHIRT
Critics say moisture droplets that carry Covid-19 are too small for anything but a N95 mask to block -- so that T-shirt, bandana or cut up underwear isn't going to do much but make you look and feel a bit silly.
So for all those saying, "what the heck, what's the harm of wearing one", the larger question is: if you choose by choice or by force to wear one, what material will actually provide any protection ?
Have a look on Etsy or Amazon or just about anywhere online and there are a million choices of face masks and a plethora of fabrics being used from 100% organic cotton to polyester blends.
And while we don't offer a scientific opinion, common sense and some recent studies could provide some guidance.
COTTON + POLYESTER SPANDEX
Researchers at the American Chemical Society say the following: "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."
Loretta Fernandez, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University took a good look at her underwear drawer and thought long and hard about adding a sheet of Nylon (yes, pantyhose).
She discovered that adding the Nylon pantyhose to a few layers of cotton created a face mask that got pretty close to the N95 protection.
"The homemade cloth masks that performed best in the testing with the nylon layer were all made of a tightly woven cotton, the kind used for quilting, and they all contained a filter of some kind"
VACUUM BAG FILTERS
And then for the DIY face mask makers hunting the house for materials to recycle, researchers led by by Dr. Sarah D. Brooks, Director of the Center for Atmospheric Chemistry and the Environment and Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences, took a look at a all those filter like things lying around the average house.
"Our results show that while a standard bandana provides some protection, certain household materials, including room air filters and vacuum bags, are more effective at blocking the virus’s passage through a mask."
“In summary, make your cloth masks, but stitch a layer of either of these into its lining, and you may have a mask with much better filtering capability and better protection against transmission of the virus.”
And finally, Yang Wang, a professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, made an exhaustive study of numerous household items, compiled HERE in this list.
His analysis shows that microfiber dish clothes that can easily be bought on Amazon offer an incredibly high level of protection compared to the much vaulted N95 masks -- which are still largely reserved for frontline workers.
We think that a two layer mask that fits nicely to the face to prevent air leakage and still allows for unrestricted breathing is the best option.
Look for a layer of cotton or cotton polyester blend with a second layer of the same and a filter pocket for an additional polyester sheet or HEPA filter. Three layers of protection that according to these researchers comes close to the N95, but won't look like you just came out of an operating theater.
If you are looking to outfit your customers, employees or large groups of people with face mask protection, have a look at Uranta Mindful Clothing -- which has really comfy face masks made of nylon, or a cotton polyester blend at prices in and around 99 cents a mask for quantities of 1000.