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New Study Reports The Best COVID-19 Mask Material Is In Many Homes

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Study shows silk beats cotton for protection against the coronavirus.

While many are creating home-made COVID-19 masks from cotton and other similar materials, a new study reports that possibly the best alternative mask material could be in your closet.

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Making Your Own COVID-19 Mask

Are you among the many who make their own COVID-19 masks? Are you tired of smothering masks that wear heavy on the face and become damp after just a short time of use? A new study recommends using this alternative mask material that can be found in many homes that might come second only to surgical masks and N95 masks in protection against the coronavirus—silk.

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According to a recent news release from the University of Cincinnati, researcher Patrick Guerra, assistant professor of biology in UC's College of Arts and Sciences and his colleagues have determined that the best alternative to single-use N95 respirator or surgical masks is one made of silk from silk moths (Bombyx mori) raised and studied in Guerra's biology lab.

The news release states that, “…with personal protective equipment still in short supply, researchers at the University of Cincinnati examined what common household fabrics might work best as a face covering.”

Silk Beats Cotton and Polyester

Comparing cotton and polyester fabrics and multiple types of silk, the researchers examined how each performed as an effective a barrier toward repelling water as a model of respiratory droplets containing the virus. Due to that cotton and polyester tends to absorb moisture, silk proved to be a better choice as a natural fabric barrier.

They determined that silk is an ideal alternative material due to these properties:

• Silk is lightweight and comfortable against the skin.

• Silk is breathable, meaning that it does not trap moisture like cotton or other materials will.

• Silk, when wet, dries quickly.

• Silk contains natural antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties that could help ward off the virus. In fact, copper is found in trace amounts in silk and has been shown to kill both bacteria and viruses on contact.

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Silk Offers Multiple Uses For Protection

"The ongoing hypothesis is that coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets," Guerra said. "If you wore layers of silk, it would prevent the droplets from penetrating and from being absorbed. Recent work by other researchers also found that increasing layers of silk improves filtration efficiency. This means that silk material can repel and filter droplets. And this function improves with the number of layers."

The researchers’ findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE with the conclusion that silk offers multiple uses in personal protective equipment.

“In summary, we suggest that silk has untapped potential for use during the current shortage of PPE in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and for future health emergencies. Our laboratory-based study highlights the practicality of using current commercially available 100% silk material as a resource for producing protective coverings that can extend the lifetime of N95 respirators, and as a fabric for fashioning face coverings for the general public.”

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The next step in their research is to determine how long the virus survives on silk and other materials.

"Silk has been with us for a while—since the days of the Silk Road," Guerra said. "It's not a new fabric, yet now we're finding all these new uses for it."

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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 Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

References:

Silk offers homemade solution for COVID-19 prevention” University of Cincinnati news release 22-SEP-2020

A laboratory-based study examining the properties of silk fabric to evaluate its potential as a protective barrier for personal protective equipment and as a functional material for face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemicPLOS One Adam F. Parlin, Samuel M. Stratton, Theresa M. Culley, and Patrick A. Guerra; Published: September 18, 2020.

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