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Improve Your Cloth Mask Effectiveness Against COVID With This Simple Addition

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Study recommends cotton batting for cloth masks.

A new study reveals what materials should be used to improve cloth mask effectiveness against COVID-19.


Masks Work, Say Experts

A news release from the Society of Risk Analysis reports that health authorities are increasingly recognizing that providing high-quality masks for everyone is our best hope during the COVID-19 pandemic toward slowing down the transmission of the disease.

This is in light of recent research showing that social distancing is not a reliable barrier to aerosol respiratory droplets and their residual droplet nuclei, as the news release states that a recent study “…estimates that one minute of loud speaking generates at least 1,000 virion-containing droplets that remain airborne for more than eight minutes.”

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Not Enough Masks for Everyone

However, providing high-quality masks typically used under medical settings is problematic as shortages of masks became apparent early-on during the pandemic because the supply was greatly exceeded by a nearly-overnight demand.

Some authorities, in fact, discouraged the public from seeking medical-grade masks due to the need was argued to be the greatest for frontline healthcare workers who were at the greatest risk of contracting the disease while treating affected patients. This would become especially relevant if there were implemented a government mandate for general mask use by everyone in the public in all venues.

Another factor was resistance from some who argued that masks were actually harmful for individuals with rather vague medical conditions and reputed physician advice that they could not wear masks throughout the day when in public.

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Furthermore, the government has recently adopted a “there’s no solution until we have a vaccine solution” attitude when it appears that distancing and masks are not enough to protect the public as evidence by new spikes in COVID-19 infections.

As such, many who have heeded common sense and decided to err on the side of caution by wearing masks until the fog of pandemic confusion has lifted, have turned to wrapping scarves around their faces, buying trendy neck gaiters, or making home-made masks of variable materials.

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However, this has introduced problems of its own as the public lacked the proper education on how long it is safe to wear a cloth mask and how to properly handle and clean a used mask, or even what materials should be used when making a reusable mask at home.

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Latest Recommended Mask Material for Home-made Masks

To help solve the problem of mask availability for the entire public, the costs involved, and the best recommendation for how home-made masks can be improved, a new study published in Risk Analysis, "Reinventing cloth masks in the face of pandemics," by Stephen Salter, describes how Effective Fiber Mask Programs (EFMPs) can help communities find a balance between the economy and curbing community spread.

According to the news release:

The new study in Risk Analysis suggests that the effectiveness of cloth masks can be improved by using a non-woven material such as cotton batting. Increasing the surface area of fibers exposed to moving air improves filtering efficiency because the smaller particles are absorbed onto the fibers. In May and June of 2020, 17 handmade cotton batting masks underwent 35 tests using commercial quantitative fit testing equipment to determine their filtering effectiveness. The results showed average filtering effectiveness of 76 to 90 percent against aerosol particles.

The study also explains that using an Effective Fiber Mask (EFM) approach to making masks can actually lower the cost per hour of use to only about one nickel per hour. Furthermore, that, “…the benefits of each additional cloth mask worn by the public are conservatively in the $3,000-$6,000 range due to their impact in slowing the spread of the virus"—a cost-benefit ratio that merits suggests government subsidies toward the cost of manufacturing and providing EFMs for the public.

The study concluded that an Effective Fiber Mask program could help societies find a viable balance between supporting the economy, protecting vulnerable groups, and reducing illness.

"I am confident Effective Fiber Masks can play an important role in reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19," states Salter. "Every country can rapidly implement an Effective Fiber Mask Program, and I hope leaders will act quickly to reduce suffering in this way."

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Ivabalk from Pixabay


New data on increasing cloth mask effectiveness” Society For Risk Analysis news release 23 Oct. 2020.

Reinventing Cloth Masks in the Face of Pandemics” First published: 24 September 2020.