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the best material for face mask

The best material for face mask is 100% cotton, alluding to a recent study aimed at the efficacy of different fabrics used in face masks. “Have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric” recommends CDC. So you can choose sandwiching the best materials for face mask like chiffon or natural silk in between cotton to enhance the mask’s effectiveness.

best-material-face-mask

According to the World Economic Forum recommendations the following materials are suggested to choose from as face mask fabric:

  • Woven cotton, at least 100 threads per inch
  • Flannel, either cotton or poly-cotton blend, at least 90 threads per inch
  • Tea towel material
  • Heavy, good quality, cotton T-shirt material

With the surge in the number of COVID-19 patients, face masks are more of a necessity now. You would need to wear a face mask when you’re out for whatever reason. Particularly in places where it becomes impossible to maintain social distancing, CDC has particularly advised the public to wear face masks.

Although the clinical face masks for instance N95, FFP3, are known to be the best against the Virus. But given the synchronous situation, these masks are most needed by the healthcare workers. Secondly, in a normal setting you would not even need a clinical grade mask to put on. A best fabric mask can very efficiently protect you from any probable virus transmission. But how? Find in the study below.

Why cotton?

There has been much research in the recent 12 months to record the efficiency of fabric face masks against the Virus. The face masks with better tightly woven fabrics are proved to be the best in hindering germs from entering. This includes cotton, chiffon, and natural silk.

Not only this, a 100% cotton face mask having another layer of chiffon or natural silk can efficiently act as a filter.

Alluding to a similar research published by ACS in April 2020 delineates that “the use of cloth masks can potentially provide significant protection against the transmission of particles in the aerosol size range”.

The study was targeted to determine the Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in homemade fabric face masks. The inference of the study clearly delineates that cotton, natural silk, and chiffon can furnish superior shielding. In addition to finding the best material for face masks, the team also discovered some interesting observations regarding the characteristics of suitable fabrics for face masks. Some of which are as follows;

Thread per inch

Fabrics with tighter weaves and less porosity, such as cotton sheets with high thread count, are best for face mask. For instance, a 600 thread per inch (TPI) cotton performs better than an 80 thread per inch (TPI) cotton. It is better to not use porous fabrics at all for making face masks. 

The aforementioned best fabrics for face masks are said to be 50% effective. Particularly if the face mask is made up of cotton, or chiffon layered with silk carrying tight weaves. The protection is quite considerable viz-a-viz loosely woven fabric.

The analysis stated that a cotton sheet which is typically less in number of threads per inch is not as effective as a cotton quilt including stuffing. 

The thread per inch (TPI) value for cotton sheets is 600 which enables them to filter at the 79 average. Whereas the cotton with batting can provide effective filtration upto 96 average. 

This indicates that highly tangled fibers in a fabric can result in increased efficacy. And in this case the batting of cotton with immensely entwined threads furnished a better protection against small particles.

In other words, the cotton fabric carrying more thread per inch coupled with closely woven material is sure to enhance filtration capacity of a face mask.

Face mask has to fit accurately 

One of the most important things whilst stitching a face mask is to ensure that it fits properly. The effectiveness of a best fabric face mask can be reduced to even half if it is not of proper size. 

“Our studies also imply that gaps (as caused by an improper fit of the mask) can result in over a 60% decrease in the filtration efficiency”.

Construction of a face mask

Moreover, according to another research shared by AIP, it can be propagated that threads per inch (TPI) is not an effective factor on its own. But rather how this factor is enhanced in sewing a face mask defines the efficacy of a face mask. Thus material and construction both are indispensable. 

The study suggests that a face mask from cotton quilting is most efficient as compared to a commercial mask, folded handkerchief, or a bandana. But in theory a bandana carries the highest value of threads per inch (TPI).

Anyhow, if there are any other probable factors which might reduce the capacity of a fabric face mask are yet to be evaluated.

Why Silk?

There is another interesting research published by PLOS ONE in September 2020. The analysis is solely based on finding the properties of the silk fabric making it one of the best materials for face masks. This study not only describes the effectiveness of silk material for face masks but also regards it as a suitable material for personal protective equipment as well.

According to this study silk is even more efficient in warding off water than cotton, and polypropylene. The prior is mostly used in fabric masks whereas the former is the material used in surgical masks.

The research concludes that silk is one of the best materials for face masks due to its water repellent nature. Since the Covid-19 virus typically transmits through water droplets. Its other significant quality is high breathability. Furthermore, the natural silk can maintain its natural tendencies even after numerous washes. “Another thing is that silk is supposedly anti-microbial,” says Guerra, the head of the researchers.

Super face masks

It is not a novel propagation that face masks with double layers are genuinely more effective as compared to single layer masks. Which material is best for face mask layering? There is an up to date analysis on that as well. 

According to the study, when the materials natural silk, chiffon, and flannel are combined together. The super face mask can produce a superior “electrostatic filtering of particles”.

Courtesy: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acsnano.0c03252

In simple words, the super face mask is a better protection in that it provides a combo effectiveness. It does not only filter like a regular fabric face mask but also generate an additional filtration due to the combined materials. 

Therefore, you can include two cotton layers having a high thread count with an extra layer of natural silk or may be chiffon. This is particularly a good face mask fabric option in the present Covid-19 pandemic. Other probable and effective super face mask fabric combinations can include, cotton, silk, and flannel.

Even multiple layers of silk can provide a considerable protection. So if you do not have anything to cover your mouth with in case of an emergency you can think about wrapping a silk scarf folded maybe three or four times.

Conclusion 

As of now the best material for fabric face masks is 100% cotton. You can sew cotton material with silk or chiffon, since it is proven to be the best material for face masks. Or you can make a double layer face mask with a filter pocket. Simply add the disposable filtration layers to the mask when needed. 

Despite the tendency of the fabrics, the efficacy of a face mask can be reduced even by 50% if it does not fit well. Moreover, the construction of a face mask is also crucial. So be meticulous in sewing a face mask.

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