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These Face Masks 'Performed Better' Against COVID-19, Study Shows

How many layers is your protective cloth face covering? 

You may be putting on a cloth mask, as recommended by the CDC, anytime you are out in public or unable to social distance. However, according to a new study, unless it is thick enough to capture the tiny, infectious droplets, it might not be doing much in preventing the spread of the potentially deadly virus. 

A video case study published online in the journal Thorax visually demonstrates that cloth coverings with two-to-three layers of fabric are most effective when it comes to capturing the tiny viral droplets that spread COVID-19. 

Multiple Layers "Performed Better"

In the video, Australian researchers from the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of New South Wales used LED lighting and a high-speed camera, to show how efficient a single layer mask (made from a t-shirt using the new-sew method), double layer (made with the CDC's method of two rectangles of cotton layered over one another), and medical grade surgical mask are when droplets are spread. 

While the surgical masks proved to be the most effective, cloth masks also got the job done. 

"From the captured video it can be observed that, for speaking, a single-layer cloth face covering reduced the droplet spread but a double-layer covering performed better. Even a single-layer face covering is better than no face covering," the researchers explained.

However, they did point out that more layers—as well as the type of material used to make a mask—matter. "Guidelines on home-made cloth masks should stipulate multiple layers (at least 3)," they added. "Several other factors determine the efficacy of cloth masks such as type of material, the number of layers, the arrangement of different layers and frequency of washing."

They also warned that more evidence is needed "to inform safer cloth mask design, and countries should ensure adequate manufacturing or procurement of surgical masks."

Here Is How to Make the Most Efficient Mask

"We acknowledge it's difficult to sew together 12 layers of fabric. But there are steps you can take to make cloth masks more effective," the researchers wrote in an accompanying article on The Conversation. Here are their suggestions: 

  • increase the number of layers (at least three layers)
  • use a water-resistant fabric for the outer layer
  • choose fabric with a high thread count (so a tighter weave, for instance from a good quality sheet is generally better than a fabric with a looser weave that you can clearly see light through)
  • hybrid fabrics such as cotton–silk, cotton–chiffon, or cotton–flannel may be good choices because they provide better filtration and are more comfortable to wear
  • make sure your mask fits and seals well around your face
  • wash your mask daily after using it.

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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