The United States is facing a very difficult situation with the coronavirus pandemic. Since it began early in the year, face masks have been the center of attention. We’ve been hearing and reading about them in the news and online, and at the beginning, people started to buy them in bulk and wholesale because of the fear of the unknown. Now that we have much more information and resources than we did back in January, cloth masks have become an effective resource for preventing the spread of the virus.
These face masks can be easily made at home, and are washable and reusable. The amount of information available online about how to make your own is endless, so here’s a little rundown on the main tutorials and patterns used, as well as the fabrics most recommended.
Reusable cloth masks and the difference between other face masks
At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of controversy about whether or not cloth masks were effective against the virus. They’re meant to trap droplets that could contain the virus, released when the wearer talks, sneezes, or coughs. They’re not filtering facepieces, like the N95 masks, but they do play a part in stopping the spread of the virus since they prevent the user from potentially releasing viral particles to the air.
The effectiveness of cloth masks is higher when they’re widely used by people in public settings, and that’s why asking the general public to wear this face mask massively has been the focus during the last several months. This represents the most powerful and effective resource we have available, while the vaccine is still in development.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been urging the general public to use these face masks, and to reserve the medical-grade N95 respirators, KN95 masks, and surgical masks to the first responders and healthcare workers on the frontline of the pandemic. Cloth masks may not be the most effective in high-risk situations, for example, when taking care of a person with COVID-19, but they’re a good option for less risky situations, like going to the grocery store. They can be used with face shields to increase the protection they offer.
N95 masks need to be prioritized for healthcare providers because they’re the best disposable face mask for antiviral purposes available at the moment. They offer a 95% filtration rate against non-oil based particles, like dust, smoke, and viruses like the flu or the coronavirus. They also offer a very tight fit around the face, preventing any leakage from happening, and making sure all the air is being filtered before reaching the wearer’s airways.
Patterns and fabrics used for face masks
Since the pandemic started at the beginning of the year, cloth masks have been the go-to item for protection against the virus. For this reason, there have been a lot of resources online for DIY (do it yourself) homemade face masks, either with or without the need for sewing. At first, many tutorials on the internet taught you how to make a face mask using an old t-shirt or a bandana, but now, there are more complex and efficient tutorials for face masks.
One of the most popular patterns used for sewing cloth masks is the Olson style. This pattern was designed by medical professionals, and it’s considered to be the best pattern available online to make your homemade face mask. The pattern is designed so the face mask is curved and fits the nose and mouth areas more tightly. The patter also comes with a pocket on the inside so that, in the case you should need it or want to, you can add a filter to your face mask. This pattern also leaves you with a more stylish face mask, which is also more effective.
The fabric used to make these face masks is usually a tightly knit fabric like cotton or silk. Filtration is achieved best with double layers of fabric. A team of researchers, however, found that the best combination was a sheet of tightly woven cotton, combined with two sheets of chiffon, leading to an 80-99% filtration efficacy, even comparing it to N95 masks.
Another popular pattern used is the pleated one, similar to the surgical face masks. Both patterns, and any other pattern you use, can be modified to fit kids better since they need a face mask in a smaller size for them to be fully protected.
But, whatever pattern you use, it’s important to point out that cloth masks are not substitutes for N95 masks or surgical/medical masks in healthcare settings. The CDC recommends everyone to wear a cloth mask in public where contact with other people is highly possible. This includes grocery stores, pharmacies, and any other environment in which you might be within 6 feet of a person that doesn’t live in the same household as you.
With reusable cloth masks, it’s also important to wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds, particularly before and after handling your face mask. Social distancing rules are also important, and wearing a cloth mask isn’t a substitute for social distancing. The combination of the three practices is what offers optimal protection.
The internet is full of information on this topic, but here are just some useful resources for patterns and tutorials:
- Olson pattern
- Pleated pattern
- Homemade t-shirt face mask
- Homemade bandana face mask
In the USA, some of the most popular face mask models for sale include 3M N95 masks, like the models 3M 8210 and 3M 8511. Anyone who uses these face masks is having a high percentage of protection, but if you’re not a healthcare provider in a high-risk situation, you can wear other options as well, like the cloth or surgical masks.