As the world grapples with living amid the COVID19 pandemic, here are great options for where to buy washable fabric face masks, including face masks with filter inserts, for men, women and kids for personal use.
Many of us will be wearing face masks and coverings when we venture outside for the foreseeable future, particularly now that major retailers like Best Buy, Starbucks and Walmart are requiring face coverings to shop.
Direct-to-consumer brands are responding to this need, and delivering critical, and in some cases fashionable, face masks and cloth protective coverings to meet demand.
Selling masks has also provided a financial lifeline for many clothing, housewares and manufacturing companies who would have otherwise had to lay off or furlough employees or potentially shut down altogether. In fact, some companies, like VIDA, are scrambling to add capacity to respond to demand for face masks.
(Many companies are also giving back to their communities in other ways, including through the Brands for Better coalition.)
Meet 2020’s newest (and most essential) accessory: The fabric face mask.
Below is a list of brands selling washable face masks for adults and kids, as well as a rundown on CDC recommendations on cloth face coverings and considerations for whether to buy a mask with a filter or without one.
I’ve enjoyed compiling this list, and buying face masks from a number of the companies listed below. I’ve been accumulating masks for months now as one way to take “a DIY approach to warding off mass infection,” as journalist Kelly Jean Kelly observed of her own experience buying face masks for her family in a recent op-ed.
Peruse the list and let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any of your favorite brands or about your experience with any of the brands I’ve mentioned. I’ve suggested two favorites of mine (Ministry of Supply’s 3D mask kit and VIDA’s Protective Mask) and my kids (VistaPrint’s super colorful and comfortable face masks).
Note that availability of masks (and hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, and toilet paper, and paper towels, sigh) can fluctuate wildly. Check the terms and delivery times carefully. Some companies are taking pre-orders and others have long shipping windows.
And, before I jump in, a big thanks to my kids for allowing their stuffies to model the masks. (I think I’m going a little stir-crazy.)
- This post is meant for informational use only. It is not intended to serve as medical advice.
- Please follow CDC and guidelines and advice from your personal healthcare professionals for all issues related to COVID19, including wearing face coverings and personal protective gear.
- Cloth face coverings and fabric masks are not a substitute for personal protective gear used by health care workers and other front-line professionals.
- Be aware that there are debates and emerging research about what kind of homemade and fabric face coverings work best and the overall effectiveness of these non-medical coverings (which I explore in more detail below).
My favorite face masks with filters are from Ministry of Supply and VIDA
Let’s start with a quick review of my favorite face masks with filters from Ministry of Supply and VIDA.
Quick Review: Ministry of Supply 3D Print-Knit Mask Kit
Innovative professional performance clothing pioneer Ministry of Supply has been 3D-printing face masks for medical use. Now, consumers can buy Ministry of Supply’s face masks too.
Ministry of Supply’s $50 “mask kit” includes a reusable, 3D Print-Knit mask plus 10 filters. The masks are made of washable fabric and feature a pocket to insert a single-use filter layer. As you would expect from a leadership team that began their journey at MIT, the masks appear and feel thoughtfully designed. They were “developed with healthcare professionals for comfort over long-term use, and utilizes a replaceable single-use filtration membrane for maximum efficacy.” The masks are made of washable fabric and feature a pocket to insert a single-use filter layer.
Ministry of Supply makes one of my favorite face masks. I have tested a number of masks from different companies, and I regularly rely on my MoS mask for everyday use. I particularly like the fact that the mask itself and the filter feel substantial and thick, yet I still feel like I’m able to breathe comfortably and the mask doesn’t feel hot on my face. (I’ve found other cotton and linen masks can feel hot in the summer or when I’m wearing for a prolonged period of time.)
Ministry of Supply also helpfully designed a large, stretchy opening at the bottom of the mask to make it easier to insert a removable filter, which proved challenging for me with other masks with filters.
“The filter element provided has been independently tested by Nelson Labs to provide higher than 95% Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE ≥ 95%),” according to Ministry of Supply. The company is donating a mask to healthcare works for every mask sold.
CEO Aman Advani told me in an interview that, “we’re doing our part to help through the crisis by producing, procuring, and donating tens of thousands of face masks (3D printed at our factory!)”
My biggest complaints are that availability comes and goes for the mask kit, and that it took a while for my mask to get to me even when I was able to order it.
Quick review: The VIDA Protective Mask
VIDA, a collaboration between designers and makers, offers a “Protective Mask” in a variety of colors and patterns. Founder Umaimah Mendhro, a Harvard Business School graduate, told me that she “began to prototype home-made masks on her personal sewing machine and sourcing alternative filter materials that could match the 3M N95 public specs.”
Their masks feature an integrated metal nose-piece, a multi-layer PM2.5 Filter with 2 layers of Meltblown Filter and 1 layer of Carbon Activated Fabric. (The company notes that filters should be replaced every 7 days.) They indicate their masks fit adults and children aged 5 and up. Each mask costs $10.
I have two of their masks. (See the photos in this article for more.)
For me, VIDA’s protective masks are among the most well-designed and comfortable masks I own. I really like the feel of the 100% cotton fabric and adjustable elastic straps, and the fact that they have a thoughtfully-designed outer layer and inner filter.
My biggest complaint about VIDA’s masks is that it can be tricky to slide in the disposable filter into the mask pocket, though you’ll face that challenge with most masks with filter pockets.
Where to buy reusable, washable face masks with filter inserts (for adults)
I personally prefer to buy face masks with filters for my own use. I’ll begin this list with my two favorite masks, and then jump to a lengthier list of options for where to find facemasks with filters.
- Ministry of Supply‘s $50 “mask kit” is my go-to for wearing around town. The mask and filter feel thick and substantial but do not make me feel hot.
- VIDA‘s “Protective Mask” is another one of my favorite face coverings.
- Vistaprint, which ordinarily makes business cards and other custom-branded business products, is selling reusable, rewashable face masks with a replaceable, patented nanofiber filter constructed from breathable melt-blown cloth, nanofiber and non-woven cloth. Each mask ships with a filter, and you can buy 10-packs of replacement filters via the same link. The mask outer layer is made from 94.5% polyester and 5.5% Elasane, and the inside fabric (the part that touches your face) is 100% cotton. I have four of the masks, and really like wearing them. I like the combination of cotton touching my face (which is sensitive to synthetic materials like polyester) combined with the disposable filter and synthetic outer layer.
- Proper Cloth, one my absolute favorite destinations for custom made shirts for men, spent a month perfecting a personal mask. The mask features a moldable metal nose piece for a protective air-seal, a rounded silhouette for a comfortable and dapper look and side pleats to help fit snugly around your face. The masks are constructed from two layers of 2-ply anti-microbial cotton melange shirting fabric, a removable 3 layer 100% polypropylene non-woven filter with meltblown core. Proper Cloth is donating a mask to local healthcare workers and others on the front lines for every mask purchased. A single mask costs $25, or purchase 3 for $50. I tested out several of these masks and like the way the cotton fabric feels. It’s also one of the only masks I have seen that features two horizontal elastic straps that fit across your head, which I like. Most other masks are designed with vertical straps that fit around your ears. However, the filter pocket on the back is pretty small, and it takes a bit of time for me to situate the filter correctly inside of the mask.
- Casetify normally makes durable and slim phone cases. They are also now making reusable, washable face masks with filter inserts. (Each mask comes with two “PM 2.5” filter inserts.) The masks are made from layers of non-woven fabric, melt-blown cotton and a middle layer of activated carbon fiber. Buy one, donate one for $15, or buy 10, donate 10 for $120. Casetify also sells UV sanitizers for iphones and other cell phones.
- Debrief Me was producing anti-pollution face masks, filters and neck gaiters long before the COVID19 crisis. Founded by Matt Silver, Brooklyn-based Debrief Me makes several types of face masks, including an anti-pollution, washable and reusable face mask with replacement filters, another type with carbon-activated filters and a premium everyday facemask constructed from knit fabric that does not pill and is water resistant, with a 100% melt-blown, non-woven polypropylene middle layer.
- Fridaze is selling 100% linen face masks for men and women. Each mask comes with a 2.5 PM filter that is meant to be inserted into 1 of the 3 linen layers of the mask. Fridaze also sells activated charcoal filter refill packs for children and adults.
- Grayers, one of many innovative direct-to-consumer brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age, is making fabric masks featuring 4 ply protection, jersey fabric, a breathable inner layer, and a a GRAYERS Fabric Outershell. The website indicates the masks contain a “filter layer.” They will be donating 10,000 masks to essential workers and those in need in their communities. Buy a five-pack for $35.
- Hertling has attractive contoured and pleated face masks for adults that feature 100% cotton layers and a nonwoven filter lining constructed from Polypropylene.
- Lumily, an ethical fashion brand, is working with its artisans in Mexico, Guatemala and Thailand to produce a colorful range of masks in chevron and other patterns and designs. Some of their masks have a filter pocket, and Lumily is selling a 5-pack of filters separately. Masks range in price from $10-30.
- Subzero Masks makes premium, hand-sewn, American-made filtered masks from 100% cotton that include “two layers of filter-media sewn between the layers” of their masks. Buy one for $29 or 4 for $99.
- Vogmask is currently taking preorders for its masks. (Check to make sure that you buy a mask that does not contain a valve.)
- Winter Session, which normally makes bags, wallets and accessories, is selling attractive reusable pleated fabric face masks made from two layers of densely woven cotton fabric secured with fabric ties, featuring a flexible wire nose piece and sleeve for its included removable filter layer. Every mask comes with two disposable filters made from a 80% polyester – 20% nylon non-woven textile blend. One mask is $14; a 10-pack of masks is $100.
- Other companies who have been well-known for producing face masks for years are not accepting online orders last I checked: Respro is not taking new orders but has an FAQ up to keep customers informed; and OnRoadCo does not appear to be selling masks over its website. It’s worth checking back with them for updates.
Where to buy fabric face masks without filters (for adults)
If you would prefer not to have a filter in your face mask, a number of other companies are producing washable face coverings without one. (Some face masks include a pocket to insert an optional filter that you would have to purchase separately).
- Ledbury, one of my favorite menswear brands of all time, has converted its shirt manufacturing facilities to make protective masks. Ledbury began by supplying these masks to essential services, health systems and businesses in need and invited essential services or business who are in need of masks to contact them directly. Ledbury is now also selling masks directly to the public. A 3-pack of antibacterial cotton masks is $25.
- Brooks Brothers is making washable face masks for adults in its U.S. factories from a nonwoven polypropylene-PLA fabric blend that “has been tested to filter 86% of particles of 0.3 microns.” I’ve admired CEO Claudio del Vecchio’s thoughtfulness about American manufacturing, and that thoughtfulness has shaped their approach to masks. Brooks Brothers notes that “this superior material has been developed with a leading university to provide protection and high breathability to minimize interior humidity inside the mask when wearing for long periods of time.” A 5 pack of masks is $20, a 20 pack of masks is $70 and 100 masks cost $300.
- Uncommon Goods – I’ve always enjoyed thumbing through Uncommon Goods’ interesting snail mail catalogs (yes, innovative companies still send catalogs through the mail). Those catalogs are always filled with unique gifts from independent artists and makers. Uncommon Goods is selling a set of 2 face coverings for $25 in a cute rainbow pattern designed by kids and made in New York. They feature “two layers of tightly woven cotton.”The company will donate 100% of profits to NYC Health + Hospitals.
- For Days – Sustainable fashion startup For Days is selling a 5 pack of personal face masks for $25, constructed from double layer of 100% organic cotton jersey from Turkey. They offer the option to add a filter (not included) via a pocket, and are secured with elastic loops that go over the ears. The masks can be sanitized and reused (they’re machine-washable). For each purchase, For Days will donate 5 masks to their initiative to help front-line workers. I ordered one of their masks individually for $5 via Bespoke Post in mid-April, and it arrived quickly to my house. It fits my face well, though I wish it had adjustable ear straps. The elastic is pulling on my ears, making it uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
- Everlane is one of my favorite modern brands for men and women, which focuses on “radical transparency” in its supply chain. The company is selling 100% Human facemasks in 100% cotton or cotton-poly blend options. A 3-pack is $28.
- American Trench – I had a chance to interview American Trench co-founder Jacob Hurwitz a while back, and have always admired his brand. Now they are selling face masks made in NJ by its outerwear manufacturer, Betterteam USA. Choose from two-tone nylon or single-layer thick Neoprene. $12.50.
- Anthropologie, which always offers a wonderfully-offbeat selection for women and the home, is selling a curated selection of reuseable face masks from brands including Amadi, Bunglo, and Sanctuary in fashionable colors and patterns.
- Avocado, a green mattress company, has been stitching together washable, reusable 100% organic cotton canvas face masks that don’t contain chemicals, elastic or plastics. They include a pocket to insert your own filter. A 4-pack is $30.
- Beau Ties is selling gorgeous washable face masks that are made by hand in Vermont for $12. The masks feature 3 layers of 100% cotton fabric, adjustable elastic earpieces and an interior filter pocket to house a filter (not included).
- Buck Mason, a direct-to-consumer brand founded in 2013 in Venice, California by neighbors Erik Allen and Sasha Koehn, is selling a 5 pack of non-medical, reusable face masks for $20 in jersey cotton or a 65% polyester – 35% rayon blend. The inner layer of the masks features an anti-microbial coating that will last up to 30 wash cycles. You can pre-order the masks now, which will ship the week of May 18th. Buck Mason is donating one mask for each one sold.
- Caraa, a NY-based luxury sports bag brand founded by Carmen Chen Wu and Aaron Luo, is selling washable face masks featuring elastic loops and a moldable embedded wire for nose bridge, made from nylon exterior and cotton interior materials repurposed from their production line.
- Christy Dawn Fashion is in the business of making beautiful, vintage-inspired dresses and promoting sustainable fashion. The company is selling the sustainable mask, a reusable, washable face covering made from sustainable deadstock fabrics in really gorgeous floral and other patterns. A 5-pack of masks is $30.
- Dearborn – Denim producer Dearborn is making washable and reusable two-ply knit cotton masks that have room for a separate filter (not included). Their website indicates that the mask is “71% effective against .2 micron particles.” Dearborn suggests using 3-5 masks for get you through the day, and being sure to follow CDC guidelines for washing and use.
- Diop – Detroit-based Diop, founded by Mapate Diop and Evan Fried in 2008, makes masks made from a triple layer of woven cloth constructed from 100% wax printed cotton. To date, they’ve donated more than $50,000 to Feed the Frontlines.
- Hedley and Bennett, which ordinarily makes chef-quality aprons, launched a wake-up and fight project to produce face masks. These washable and reusable fabric face masks were developed by Hedley and Bennett in collaboration with Dr. Robert Cho, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at a local children’s hospital. It is designed so that you can insert a disposable filter within the fabric for an added layer of protection.
- Inkerman sells nice-looking shoes, sneakers and boots for men and women, and is also making anti-microbal prevention face masks. Buy 3 and donate 3 for $20.
- Kirby Allison is selling “sovereign grade” COVID-19 face masks crafted in Dallas from English and Italian Dormeuil suiting fabric. Because, “if you are going to have to wear a mask, you might as well wear one crafted from beautiful and exceptionally-soft fabric!”
- Los Angeles Apparel is offering 100% cotton made in America facemasks made from a thick, French terry yarn with an adjustable nose bridge. A 3 pack is $30.
- Onzie, which makes athleisure yoga and workout apparel, is selling “mindful masks,” which are “made with heart and soul in Los Angeles, California” from fabrics used to make their yoga clothing. It costs $24 for a 2 pack of masks, which are made from “stretchy, quick-drying and breathable” fabrics.
- Rag and Bone – Made at their factory in Los Angels, their washable, made-in-America masks are made from an outer Lyocell and viscose blend and are lined in 100% Cotton.$5 from each purchase is being donated to City Harvest.
- Railcar Fine Goods offers washable, reusable, face masks in two sizes (small and medium/large) for $20. The company, which usually is in the business of making jeans and jackets. makes its masks from thick gauge thread and feaures a 100% cotton outer shell and a 100% cotton jersey fabric lining. They are made in-house at its workshop in Monrovia, California.
- Reformation, aka Ref, is complementing their pretty dresses, blouses, denim and bridal offerings by producing a 5-pack of non-medical-grade masks for $25. The masks are made from a viscose-rayon blend, which Ref describes as “a lightweight drapey crepe fabric with a dry hand feel.” Ref works with NGO Canopy to ensure their tree-based products come from sustainably managed forests. (Ref is also an interesting alternative to lululemon for stretchy basics.)
- Rosemarine Textiles – Meghan Navoy founded Rosemarine Textiles from Detroit, and pivoted to produce American-made face masks with a flair for style. She tie-dyes her own fabrics, and sells via her website and Rosemarine Textile’s Etsy shop.
- Sid Mashburn – Atlanta-based purveyor of fine menswear goods Sid Mashburn is making masks for personal use in simple blue solids, stripes and floral patterns “made to CDC standards” (but not medical-grade).
- Standard Issue Tees is selling a 100% ring spun cotton, double-layered, pre-laundered made-in-the-USA face mask. The simple, plain white masks have a pocket for including your own filter (not included). The company usually makes tee-shirts, sweats and other basics out in Vernon, California.
- State and Liberty, which makes athletic fit dress shirts and other performance professional wear from technical fabrics, is selling reusable face masks made from a woven fabric blend of polyester and spandex along with stretchy loops that sit on your ears. A two-pack if masks is $15.
- Steele Canvas is an American manufacturer that has has kept its doors open through the Great Depression, wars and other hardships. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they pivoted to produce American-made face masks. Get a Keep America Moving Mask for $10.
- Stormy Kromer is manufacturing washable and reusable, made-in-America face coverings using its signature 100% cotton flannel on the outside (in blue-black or red-black) and a solid polyester-cotton blend twill for an inner layer. (The masks are cut-and-sewn in the United States and made of globally-sourced materials.) They are donating 10% of sales to the Gogebic Range Health Foundation in Ironwood, Michigan and St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center in Flint.
- Todd Shelton is extremely thoughtful about clothing, communities and American manufacturing. In April 2020, his eponymous company began making non-medical-grade masks for customers and newsletter subscribers using their shirt fabrics free of charge. Todd sent out 1,000 masks to customers and the community. In May, Todd Shelton announced it would transition to selling reusable face masks to the community. They designed their masks, which cost $18 and are woven at their factory in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to be aesthetically pleasing, from fabrics includeing black oxford and blue chambray, since “masks are here to stay” for the foreseeable future. They also updated their mask’s design, which now incorporates a fused lining inside to add protection and minimize wrinkling.
- Etsy sellers have been busy sewing and constructing reusable fabric face masks for women, men and children. You can really fall down a rabbit hole with general searches on Etsy for Face Masks, Face Masks with Filter, and Face Masks made in the USA. You can feel good supporting these micro and small businesses and independent sellers as you #shopsmall. Here are several of the many Etsy Sellers that offer face masks and face coverings that caught my eye:
- OrganicCraftStore offers attractive 100% cotton reusable, washable face masks for adults.
- Plankroadfabrics in High Point, North Carolina offers 100% cotton, washable cloth facemasks for kids and adults.
- PoppyTotsBoutique makes reusable, washable, two-layer cotton contoured face masks in bright patterns and colors.
- BohemiHandcrafted sells 100% Organic Cotton double-layer face mask with adjustable ties and a shapable nose from Australia.
Where to find reusable face masks for kids
Some companies are making face masks fit especially for children. Just remember that the CDC advises that “cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.” Children should be supervised and assisted while wearing masks.
I’ve bought several masks for my kids, and my favorites so far are from VIDA and Vistaprint.
- VIDA indicates their face masks fit kids aged 5 and above. I bought two of their masks, and my kids love them. They’re simple, brightly-colored, and comfortable. At $10 each, they are also affordable.
- Vistaprint sells face masks especially for kids with filters. I bought two kids’ masks and they are among my children’s favorites. The kids really like the cool lightening bolt and heart designs (see the photos in this article). You can even make custom face masks from your own designs.
- Uncommon Goods offers their cute rainbow face masks for kids as well as adults.
- Beau Ties sell handmade-in-Vermont face masks in a kid’s size.
- Cubcoats, which sells kids’ apparel, is selling cute kids’ protective face masks with animal faces that feature a 100% cotton inner layer and a pocket for a filter (not included).
- Dearborn Denim indicates that their size small cotton masks “work well for children.”
- Ellsworth Supplies offers 100% linen face masks in different sizes for children and adults that include one 2.5PM filter.
- Fridaze is also selling 100% linen face masks for kids and men and women. Fridaze also sells activated charcoal filter refill packs for children and adults.
- Hertling is selling cute washable face masks for kids that feature a polypropylene non-woven interlining filter layer.
- Jaanuu, which makes scrubs out of stretchy athleisure-like material, is making face masks for kids and adults from the same fabric. Note that the fabric is a stretchy 90% polyester and 10% spandex blend, not 100% cotton.
- Los Angeles Apparel is selling a 3-pack of cotton face masks for kids for $30.
- Lumily, an ethical fashion brand, sells a range of colorful face masks for kids.
- Onzie is selling a 2 pack of their mindful masks made from “stretchy, quick-drying and breathable” fabric for kids for $20.
- Old Navy is making masks for kids though, last time I checked, they were out of stock. (Sign up for emails to get notified when they’re back in stock.)
- Sanctuary has a five pack of facemasks for kids made from a 100% cotton muslin cotton shell with a double inner layer, plus a 100% polypropylene meltblown filter layer.
- Steele Canvas is proudly making face masks for kids in the United States of America. Nab a kids’ mask pack with 5 masks featuring adorable designs made from stars, dragonflies, giraffes, stingrays and dots.
- Todd Shelton is making reusable face masks for kids as well as adults. See the instructions on their website.
- Winter Session sells children’s face masks with filters.
Where to buy replacement filters for face masks
Just a reminder that these are not medical grade filters and are not a substitute for medical-grade Personal Protective Equipment.
- Ministry of Supply is selling a 10-pack of its custom fit replacement filter inserts for its masks. Their filters were tested by Nelson Labs to provide higher than 95% Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE).
- Fridaze is selling a 10-pack of Activated Carbon Filter Insert face mask refills for adults and children.
- Lumily is selling a 5-pack of face mask filter inserts constructed from activated carbon and non-woven melt-blown filter cloth. According to the product description, the “five-layer filter system effectively keep[s] away from PM 2.5 and a range of airborne contaminants.”
- Vistaprint sells a 10-pack of its filter made from melt-blown nanofiber.
- Winter Session sells replacement filters alongside its masks.
Why should you wear a mask?
You should wear a mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing cloth face coverings may help people who have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to other people.
“Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting,” according to Robert R. Redfield, Director of the CDC.
I keep seeing statements from people who say something along the lines of, “well, I know the risks and if I get corona, then so what? I don’t need to wear a mask.”
That is deeply selfish and irresponsible. The point of wearing a mask is not only to protect yourself. It’s to protect others.
Say I love you by wearing a mask.
Ledbury made a terrific video that illustrates the point:
What kind of face mask should you wear to protect yourself and others from COVID19?
Having poured through countless websites, advertisements and articles about fabric face masks, there’s lot of confusing information and options out there.
Two questions that frequently arise are:
- What is the best kind of material to use to make a face mask?
- What is the difference between face masks with filters and masks without filters?
CDC recommendations on cloth face coverings
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance with respect to fabric face masks and cloth coverings. The CDC recommends:
wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.
Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
The CDC recommends these face coverings meet five key criteria. They should:
- fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- be secured with ties or ear loops
- include multiple layers of fabric
- allow for breathing without restriction
- be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
For more information about the value of wearing face coverings, see the CDC’s website.
What is the best kind of material to use to make a fabric face mask?
A fabric face mask should be constructed from “a denser weave of thicker material” and “relatively high quality cloth” to be most effective in filtering virus and other particles, according to Scott Segal, chairman of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
The best fabric face masks, made of high-quality “quilter’s cotton,” achieved up to 79% filtration in a study conducted by Dr. Segal and colleagues at at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. That filtration efficiency was higher than their findings for surgical masks (62% to 65%) but lower than the filtration achieved by N95 masks (97%).
However, other homemade masks tested by Dr. Segal “performed significantly worse, sometimes demonstrating as little as 1% filtration.” A single layer of cotton and inferior, lighter-weight cotton performed particularly poorly in their tests.
According to Wake Forest’s research,
The best-performing design was constructed of two layers of high-quality, heavyweight “quilter’s cotton” with a thread count of 180 or more, and those with especially tight weave and thicker thread such as batiks. A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and an inner layer of flannel also performed well.
Thick “jersey cotton” of the kind used to make dress shirts also scored well in Segal’s study, according to Marketwatch.
Another proof-of-concept study by researchers at DukeHealth (“Low-cost measurement of facemask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech”), evaluated the efficacy of face masks in blocking expelled particles from wearers’ mouths.
The study found that fitted N95 masks without valves, which are the kind of medical-grade face masks worn by health care and front-line workers, performed the best. But surgical, polypropylene masks, and homemade cotton face masks also performed well in halting the distribution of particles.
Why you shouldn’t wear a porous neck gaiter or fleece to stop the spread of COVID19.
“The notion that ‘anything is better than nothing’ didn’t hold true,” according to Dr. Eric Charles Westman, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Duke School of Medicine and one of the authors of the DukeHealth study.
Their study tested one neck gaiter (aka neck fleece), and concluded that the “neck fleece has a larger transmission… than the control trial,” meaning that it was potentially worse than wearing nothing at all.
DukeHealth cautioned that, according to the study, “bandanas and neck fleeces such as balaclavas didn’t block the droplets much at all.”
That said, Dr. Martin Fischer, another of the study’s authors, explained to CNET that, “our work was a preliminary study that included one fleece mask (also called gaiter mask, or neck gaiter) only — we did not do a systematic study involving many masks, speakers and wear conditions. More studies are needed to make specific use recommendations.”
Dr. Fischer added that the fleece mask that they tested was made of polyester/spandex and that, “typically, these masks are pretty thin to provide breathability.” Other neck gaiters made from less porous material, may be better at stopping the spread of COVID19.
Why you shouldn’t wear face masks with valves to stop the spread of COVID-19.
A number of other companies sell masks with valves. Experts indicate face masks with valves are not effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
According to the CDC, “respirators with exhalation valves protect the wearer from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but may not prevent the virus spreading from the wearer to others.”
A growing number of cities and localities, airlines like United, and businesses like Disney are banning their use.
Be careful when buying face masks, and check to make sure that they do not have valves. For instance, Cambridge Masks advertises that its respirators are “with UK military grade filtration technology,” but their masks also have exhaust valves. Airinum sells the Urban Air Mask that includes 5-layer filter technology — and a valve.
What is the difference between masks with filter inserts and masks without filters?
Some companies are making masks without filter inserts. These masks are usually constructed of two or more layers of cotton or other fabric. (Note the CDC’s guidelines excerpted above recommend a mask “include multiple layers of fabric.”)
For these kinds of masks without filters, its ability to filter virus and other particles from the air is entirely dependent on the quality and construction and number of layers of fabric that are used.
Other companies are producing masks that include a separate filter layer.
The goal of a filter is to increase the filtration efficiency of the mask.
The idea of this additional layer is that it is less porous than the mask’s fabric alone, and may better filter out virus and other particles (while still enabling you to breathe).
For example, research indicates that vacuum cleaner bags have a high filtration efficiency but that their “stiffness and thickness created a high pressure drop across the material, rendering it unsuitable for a face mask” by themselves.
Missouri S&T environmental engineering assistant professor Dr. Yang Wang measured particle size distribution of air filters, furnace filters, HEPA filters and coffee filters. He concludes that, “I think a combination of the fabrics and air filters might be a good way to go.”
But Dr. Wang also cautions that, when you cut or fold commercial air filters, that action can generate small fibers and, “if we breathe those tiny fibers into our lungs that may cause some respiratory diseases.”
He recommends inserting a filter layer into a fabric mask, and “to make sure there are multiple layers of fabric surrounding these filters.”
Masks are not a substitute for social distancing
Just a reminder that wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing. As White House advisor Deborah Birx said, “The most important thing is the social distancing and washing your hands, and we don’t want people to get an artificial sense of protection because they’re behind a mask.”
Who is missing from this list?
Have you found other businesses making face masks or coverings for personal use? Let me know in the comments or contact me.
Pin me please: Where to buy a washable face mask for kids and adults
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About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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