Wearing a face mask is not exactly a pleasant experience. But as the coronavirus pandemic drags on, it’s become clear that masking up is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Experts agree the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads most effectively through tiny droplets suspended in the air. By wearing a mask, you can keep these droplets from becoming airborne, thus protecting everyone around you.
Supplies of surgical and N95 masks continue to be limited and are being directed to first responders and health care workers. So, many of us have been making our own masks from old T-shirts and other fabrics.
To test the fabric’s suitability for mask making, we’ve been told to hold the fabric up to the light — the less light passing through the fabric, the better it is for a mask. For instance, tightly woven cotton like the kind used in quilting fabric has been considered one of the best materials for masks.
But that may no longer be the case. A University of Cincinnati study put a number of common household fabrics to the test to decide which was best suited for making masks. This is what they discovered…
Silk masks are the safest
The UC researchers found face masks made of silk to be the best alternative to single-use N95 respirators or surgical masks. Silk face masks are comfortable, breathable and repel moisture, excellent qualities for protecting against an airborne virus like COVID-19.
Even better, silk has natural antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties that could help fight off the virus. According to Patrick Guerra, assistant professor of biology in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, the moth caterpillars that make silk eat mulberry leaves, and the copper from those leaves gets incorporated into the silk. Studies have shown that copper can kill bacteria and viruses on contact.
Researchers in the UC biology lab tested cotton and polyester fabric along with multiple types of silk to see how effectively each repelled water, which was used to represent the respiratory droplets containing the virus. They found that silk worked far better as a moisture barrier than either polyester or cotton, both of which are too absorbent.
“Cotton traps moisture like a sponge,” Guerra says. “But silk is breathable. It’s thinner than cotton and dries really fast.”
Guerra advises the use of multiple layers of silk when making masks to improve filtration efficiency. He is currently investigating how long the coronavirus survives on silk and other materials.
The type of fabric used in your mask is certainly important. But it doesn’t really matter what it’s made of if you’re not wearing your mask properly…
Wearing masks correctly
Before you even put on your mask, you should wash your hands. Then, holding your mask by the ear loops or straps, put it on so that it covers your nose, mouth and chin. Make sure it fits snugly against both sides of your face, but not so tightly that you can’t breathe easily. Don’t wear a mask with a vent or exhalation valve; it won’t provide the protection you need.
While you’re wearing your mask, be careful not to touch it. If you do, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to disinfect. Don’t wear the mask around your neck or on your forehead; it can get contaminated that way.
When you get home and are ready to take off your mask, untie the strings behind your head or stretch the ear loops, and only handle the mask by the ear loops or ties. Once it’s off, fold the outside corners together and place it directly in the washing machine. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth when removing the mask, and wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds immediately after removal.
Keep those masks clean
You can wash your masks with the rest of your laundry, or you can wash them by hand. When washing in a machine, use regular laundry detergent and the highest appropriate temperature setting for the fabric the mask is made of. Use the hottest setting if at all possible.
When washing by hand, be sure the fabric is bleach-safe. Use a solution of 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of room temperature water. Make sure the bleach you’re using contains between 5.25 percent and 8.25 percent sodium hypochlorite. Color-safe bleach is usually not appropriate for disinfection.
Soak the mask in the bleach solution for five minutes, then pour the bleach solution down the drain and rinse the mask thoroughly with cool or room temperature water. Be sure the mask is completely dry before storing or wearing it.
Finally, don’t let wearing a mask lull you into a sense of false security. For best protection from COVID-19, you should still maintain 6 feet of distance between you and others and avoid contact with people who are sick.
Silk offers homemade solution for COVID-19 prevention — University of Cincinnati
How to Wear Masks — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention