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Making a Homemade Mask As Effective as a Medical or N-95 Mask

Question:
How can I make a mask that is as good as a surgical mask or an N-95 mask?
Making a Homemade Mask as Effective as Surgical and N-95 Mask -- Cloth Masks, Scissors and Fabric
Answer:
If made with the right household materials, you can create a mask that may be as effective as a medical mask or even an N-95 respirator, according to several laboratory studies. Masks can be used alone or, for increased protection, particularly for the eyes, with a face shield.

How materials compare in blocking coronavirus

The first study, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that many household fabrics can be as effective as the material in surgical masks for blocking droplets the size of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) coronavirus. The blocking efficiency of a commercial medical mask was found to be 96.3%, while the blocking efficiency of a used dish cloth (85% polyester and 15% nylon) was slightly better -- 97.9%. In addition, most household fabrics were more breathable than the material in a medical mask. The dish cloth, for example, was twice as breathable as the medical mask (Aydin, medRxiv 2020 --preprint). (See the CDC website to learn how to make a cloth face covering.)

A study at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory found that tightly woven, high-thread count cotton (600 thread-per-inch (TPI) sheet by Wamsutta) was more effective in filtering large droplets (similar to larger-sized SARS-CoV-2 droplets) than loosely woven cotton with a lower thread count (quilters cotton, 80 TPI), while fabrics with an electrostatic charge (such as silk and chiffon) were best for blocking aerosols -- the smaller sized droplets that remain suspended in air for extended amounts of time. Using layers of both fabrics, together, was most effective for blocking both large and small droplets. For example, two layers of 600 TPI cotton fabric had a large particle and small particle blocking efficacy of 99.5% and 82%, respectively, but one layer of 600 TPI cotton combined with two layers of chiffon (90% polyester, 10% spandex from Jo-Ann Stores) had a large particle and small particle blocking efficacy of 99.2% and 97% -- which is nearly as good as a properly-fitted N95 mask for blocking large particles and better than the N-95 with respect to small particles, of which only 85% are blocked by an N-95 mask). The researchers also found that small holes or leaks around the edges of the fabrics could decrease the blocking efficacy by 50% or more, and emphasized the importance of a good fit (snug and without gaps) (Konda, ACS Nano 2020). [Note: An illustration in the study shows the electrostatic layer of fabric as the inner layer when fabrics were combined. However, ConsumerLab contacted the author of the study who suggested that electrostatic fabric (such as chiffon) may be best used as the outer layer of the mask to avoid humidity from the nose or mouth, which could interfere with the electrostatic properties, but emphasized that was his suggestion, not something that was tested in the study.]

How to reduce air leakage around a mask

A way to reduce air leaks was suggested by a study, at Northeastern University in Boston, which showed that pulling an 8 to 10-inch tube of nylon (cut from a queen-sized nylon stocking) down over a regular mask and to the top of the neck. This significantly prevented air leakage around the mask and improved particle filtration efficiency, making the combined masking nearly as effective as an N-95 respirator which, unlike a medical mask, has an electrostatic charge and is specifically designed to prevent air leakage (Mueller, medRxiv 2020 --preprint; Godoy, NPR.org 4/22/20).

How to clean a cloth mask

Cloth masks can be washed in a washing machine. They can also be cleaned using heat, but a washing machine is preferred.

Any benefit to wearing masks at home?

Although CDC guidelines do not currently include the use of face masks at home, the rate of transmission from one household family member to another was 79% lower when members wore face masks prior to the first member developing COVID-19 symptoms, according to a study of 124 families in Beijing in which there was at least one infected person. Overall, there was a 23% rate of transmission of COVID-19 from an infected family member to another, but this was no lower when mask wearing began after the first member developed symptoms. These results are consistent with the fact that viral load is highest two days before symptoms and on the first day of symptoms. Daily use of disinfectants reduced transmission by 77%. Transmission rates were four times higher if the primary case had diarrhea and 18 times higher when there was frequent daily close contact (less than 3 feet apart). The researchers recommended use of face masks in families in which a member has been at risk of getting infected. In China, over 70% of transmission occurred within families (Wang, BMJ Global Health 2020).

Potential carbon dioxide build-up

If you make a mask that is as effective as an N-95 respirator, it may share the same potential that N95 masks have to reduce oxygen intake and, over time cause carbon dioxide build-up inside the mask (Sinkule, Ann Occup Hyg 2013). According to researchers at Stanford University, N95 masks are "are estimated to reduce oxygen intake by anywhere from 5 to 20 percent. That's significant, even for a healthy person. It can cause dizziness and lightheadedness." However, a small study in the U.S. found that wearing an N-95 mask for up to one hour did not cause any significant adverse effects in healthy healthcare workers performing moderate activities, despite significantly decreased inhaled oxygen and increased inhaled carbon dioxide levels (Roberge, Respir Care 2010). A representative from the CDC told Reuters.com that "...the level of CO2 likely to build up in the mask is mostly tolerable to people exposed to it. You might get a headache but you most likely [would] not suffer the symptoms observed at much higher levels of CO2. The mask can become uncomfortable for a variety of reasons including a sensitivity to CO2 and the person will be motivated to remove the mask. It is unlikely that wearing a mask will cause hypercapnia [elevated blood levels of carbon dioxide]."

The CDC advises that face masks should not be placed on children under the age of two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who would not be able to remove the mask without assistance.

N-95 vs. KN-95 respirators

Be aware that masks labeled as "KN-95" are not N-95 respirators and their filtration may not match that of N-95 masks. KN-95 masks may also not have a proper fit to prevent air leakage and typically have "ear loops" rather than the head bands used on N-95 respirators. The CDC has published its own tests of many of KN-95 and related masks, by brand, showing filtration levels as low as 13.6% to over 99%; however air leakage was not tested, so a KN-95 mask filtering 99% may be inferior to an N-95 respirator that provides a proper fit even though its filtration efficiency need not be greater than 95%). 

The CDC also publishes a list of approved N-95 respirators, and the FDA has published a list of authorized N-95 respirators from China that have not gone through the CDC (NIOSH) approval process but were approved in China. Note that some products that had been on this list were later removed after being tested by the CDC (NIOSH).

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COMMENTS

Steve20073   May 28, 2020
I purchased a face shield like the first one you reviewed from Amazon prime on 5-3-20 2 days before you did on 5-5-20. Even though it was prime delivery date is still in the future a month.

Paige20053   May 27, 2020
Thank you for all your work! Have you heard anything about Filti face mask material? The website states it is " highly-efficient (up to 95%) on sub-micron particles, including bacteria and viruses."

ConsumerLab.com   May 28, 2020
We haven't reviewed this product, but according to the information available on the product website, the material has a filtration efficacy of "up to 95% at 0.3 micron." If this is accurate, this would be somewhat less efficient for blocking larger sized particles (0.3 microns = 300 nm) than a properly fitted N95 mask, and some of the other fabric masks described in the study in the answer above (Konda, ACS Nano 2020). However, there is no mention of how well the material filters smaller-sized particles or aerosols (< 0.3 micron). Also, be aware that the material data sheet for this product states "Results are the outcome of a single test on a TSI 8130 - they are not guaranteed to be representative of all Filti Mask Material," so if you are interested in this product it might be best to confirm that you are getting the same material as used in their test.

NANCY B20033   May 25, 2020
I had a large number of all cotton, 3 ply, Curity rectangular diapers that I had saved from caring for g'children over 20 yrs ago, that, cut into thirds, lengthwise, made perfect masks, when I attached rubber bands to the ends, to hang around the ears. They wash beautifully in the machine, & are very comfortable to wear. Nancy

ConsumerLab.com   May 25, 2020
Just be sure that they are not constructed with any material that should not be inhaled.

Letitia20014   May 24, 2020
I have been making masks for family and friends using the instructions from the Fabric Patch quilting store https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4r8nwFdUxY. The mask is made from quilting cotton with the filter being 100% polypropylene (Olyfun) ---two layers cotton and two layers polypropylene. My son-in-law has a huge beard so I make him a pleated mask still using 2layers cotton and 2 layers filter. Additional information on Oly-fun can be found here https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nTBiOV74SIDaNqLFGWlpNVoeceU_WJLiGuCn0JU-x4g/edit.

Gary J.20013   May 24, 2020
Where can I find a pattern or instructions for making a mask?

ConsumerLab.com   May 27, 2020
The CDC provides instructions for making cloth masks: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html.

Richard19995   May 21, 2020
How long does the coronavirus live on or in face masks, especially N95 or KN95? Because these can not be cleaned or decontaminated easily, is it possible to set one aside for a week or longer to allow the virus to die?

Richard

ConsumerLab.com   May 22, 2020
As mentioned in our information about using heat to kill coronavirus, the virus has been shown to last on masks for as long as 7 days - although at just 0.1% of the original level (see https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/heat-to-kill-coronavirus/heat-coronavirus/). Leaving a mask a room temperature (or warmer) for a week or longer would seem a good way to decontaminate the mask, as you suggest.

Catherine20007   May 22, 2020
I keep my N95 mask on the dashboard of my car. I live in South Florida and my car is parked outdoors in the sun. If you have ever been to this area you know that a car parked in the sun gets pretty darn hot and often almost unbearable to get into to.

Lloyd20022   May 24, 2020
I live in Puerto Rico. I purposely park, now, so my car heats up in the morning sun. I hang my mask from the rear view mirror. Why because ConsumerLab tells me heat inactivates the virus. The other day, with an infrared thermometer I measured the temperature of the mask to be, more than, 125 degrees F. My hat, gloves and bandana also get heated and disinfected without any extra effort. When I collect packages from Amazon,etc. I let them sit overnight and the next morning before unpacking, right in the back of my Subaru Forester. The way things are I only drive one or two days a week, not many places to go these days. The interior of my car should be quite a safe haven with no need for special disinfection. Anyone sees a flaw in this approach interested to hear about it.

ConsumerLab.com   May 24, 2020
That seems perfectly reasonable, Lloyd!

CHRISTOPHER20030   May 25, 2020
I thought studies said 135 deg. F. to kill Corona???? I also wonder if you can get the temps up inside a car to 135F. by setting the heat on high/recycle air, and with something on the accelerator to keep up the RPMs to get the engine hot...... Almost every's Car's engine thermostat is set at 200F for the engine coolant, so it would be interesting if a car's HVAC/HEAT will allow an interior to get that hot.....

ConsumerLab.com   May 26, 2020
To clarify, there isn't a magic temperature at which the coronavirus is inactivated -- it's a function of both time and heat (and other factors, such as material on which, or in which, the virus exists). As heat goes up, the less time needed for inactivation. So, even at room temperature, given adequate time, an object with coronavirus will become decontaminated.

Peter20050   May 27, 2020
Silly and potentially dangerous (think carbon monoxide poisoning). Please don't try this especially in an enclosed garage.

Ronald19977   May 20, 2020
Interesting sites

https://www.businessinsider.com/the-materials-that-filter-particles-best-in-homemade-masks-testing-2020-4


Ursi19976   May 20, 2020
Great information! I'd like to make face masks, but I can't seem to find these exact dish cloths. I've seen microfiber dish cloths made of 80% polyester and 20% polyamid. Would they be as good for masks as the ones made of 85% polyester and 15% nylon?

ConsumerLab.com   May 20, 2020
Polyamide is the more generic term for nylon, so this sounds very close to, but not exactly the same, as the dish cloth fabric blend described in the study.

In the study cited above, the dish cloth was only described as a "used dish cloth," made of 85% polyester and 15% nylon. The study also includes a small, up close photo of the dish cloth fabric (use the link to the study above, and see the photos under Table 1 in the pdf).

If we can get more information about the dish cloth used in the study, we will post that information here.

John19975   May 20, 2020
I have a friend in the UK who is inserting a HEPA filter made for her vacuum cleaner between the layers of the masks she makes? Good idea or?

ConsumerLab.com   May 21, 2020
There is some very preliminary research from Missouri University suggesting that coffee filters, Hepa or furnace filters, and even vacuum cleaner bags, may make homemade cloth masks more effective, but researchers caution that cutting some materials, such as furnace filters, may create small fibers of material that should not be inhaled because they can irritate and damage the lungs. To avoid this, they recommend placing these types of materials in between layers of fabric. For more about this see the researchers video on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhckSGPT9Rg.

Gloria19959   May 20, 2020
Do you have any recommendations for the use of UVC light for a small business. And can you recommend a specific brand. Have you done testing with UVC and how to properly make it functional in regards to SARS-COVID2 In a small business setting?

ConsumerLab.com   May 20, 2020

Christine19958   May 20, 2020
What is considered a dish cloth?

ConsumerLab.com   May 20, 2020
In the study cited above, the dish cloth was only described as a "used dish cloth," made of 85% polyester and 15% nylon. The study also includes a small, up close photo of the dish cloth fabric (use the link to the study above, and see the photos under Table 1 in the pdf). If we can get more information about the dish cloth used in the study, we will post that information here.

charles19938   May 18, 2020
Did not mention anything about coffee filters

ConsumerLab.com   May 21, 2020
There is some very preliminary research from Missouri University suggesting that coffee filters, and other materials such as Hepa or furnace filters, and vacuum cleaner bags, may make homemade fabric masks more effective, but researchers caution that cutting some materials, such as furnace filters, may create small fibers of material that should not be inhaled because they can irritate and damage the lungs. To avoid this, they recommend placing these types of materials in between layers of fabric. For more about this see the researchers video on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhckSGPT9Rg.

Joanne19931   May 17, 2020
My husband found an old face shield in our basement that he had used for welding. I bought a face shield from Staples for $6.50 with free delivery; it was hard, but we removed the covering on both sides of the shield. Voila! I turn a screw in the back of the head covering to make it fit my smaller head.

Richard19922   May 16, 2020
I went to the CDC site to find the test results of KN 95 masks (for filtration efficiency, etc.) but all it listed was companies making N 95 masks. Do you know where the KN 95 list can be found?

Richard

ConsumerLab.com   May 19, 2020
It is in the link we provided. You will see many KN-95 masks listed. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/respirators/testing/NonNIOSHresults.html

Jane19908   May 14, 2020
I have yet to find a dish cloth made of 15% nylon and 85% polyester. Could this ba a microfiber cloth?

ConsumerLab.com   May 20, 2020
In the study cited above, the dish cloth was only described as a "used dish cloth," made of 85% polyester and 15% nylon. The study also includes a small, up close photo of the dish cloth fabric (use the link to the study above, and see the photos under Table 1 in the pdf). If we are able to get further details about the dish cloth used in the study, we will post that information here.

micheline19906   May 13, 2020
I don't see any benefit in wearing a mask unless in contact with others. as I find them uncomfortable. In fact, I'm wondering how much carbon dioxide I'm inhaling and if this could be detrimental in the long run. Any studies on that?

ConsumerLab.com   May 27, 2020
The CDC advises "wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations." (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/about-face-coverings.html). We've added information about the potential for carbon dioxide build up in N95 masks in the answer above.

Judith19850   May 10, 2020
Out of curiosity: during the Covid-19 pandemic, which medical personnel require N-95 masks--like what are they doing on the job--and which can use surgical or home-made masks. Thanks.

ConsumerLab.com   May 11, 2020
Please see CDC healthcare personnel guidance for Understanding and Selecting Respiratory Protection Devices (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/pdfs/N95-Infographic-REACH-II-508.pdf).

The CDC defines healthcare personnel as paid and unpaid persons who provide patient care in a healthcare setting or support the delivery of healthcare by providing clerical, dietary, housekeeping, engineering, security, or maintenance services (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/hospresptoolkit/policies.html).

ROBERT19835   May 10, 2020
Would it be possible for people with something like the KN95 masks with ear loops rather than head bands to cut some elastic bands and carefully attach (staple?) them to the sides of such masks without compromising their effectiveness?

ConsumerLab.com   May 11, 2020
We don't know.

James19834   May 10, 2020
N95 masks increase the breathing workload, which requires focusing on breathing and increases mask fatigue.

More isn't always better.

andrea19833   May 10, 2020
Excellent work. Well organized and very helpful. Living in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and working on a taskforce to keep current accurate information available to expat community and to locals as well. Appreciate the work you are doing.

Sally19950   May 20, 2020
andrea19833
I have a sister living in San Cristobal de las Casas, MX. She has shared that it is difficult to get accurate and current information there. Is there a website or source of information I can share with her please? Thank you.

ConsumerLab.com   May 20, 2020
Our website is accessible in Mexico and most countries, although it is in English. We don't have information about other resources in Mexico.

andrea20042   May 27, 2020
Facebook group COVID19SMA is being produced by first rate epidemiologists and infectious disease professionals. I recommend it. Info specific to Mexico is available. (retired Doc)

Sally19953   May 20, 2020
Need accurate/current Covid-19 information/ statistics for SanCristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. My sister lives there, please and thank you!

ConsumerLab.com   May 20, 2020
You can find international COVID-19 statistics through Google News: https://news.google.com/covid19/map?hl=en-US&gl=US&ceid=US:en. Enter the country or city you want to see statistics for in the search bar in the middle of the page.

Here is the page for Chiapas, Mexico: https://news.google.com/covid19/map?hl=en-US&gl=US&ceid=US%3Aen&mid=%2Fm%2F01zlx

Florin19830   May 10, 2020
The Aydin paper claims that a new T-shirt with two layers blocks more than the used dishcloth, weighs less, and is almost as breathable. A T-shirt might also be more comfortable to wear as a mask than a dishcloth.

ConsumerLab.com   May 11, 2020
Yes, however, it is not clear if that would remain the case after washing a mask made from a new T-shirt. Results with used shirts were not as good as with the new T-shirt.

Garry 19818   May 7, 2020
Homemade dishcloths better than N95 is very questionable. I don't see any medical front line professionals wearing dishcloths. Is this article for real?

ConsumerLab.com   May 7, 2020
A fair question as this is a serious topic. N-95 masks would certainly seem preferable -- if available. If not, when the level of protection with an N-95 mask is necessary, these approaches may be helpful. This area of research is evolving and, as we note, the studies above have not yet appeared in peer-reviewed journals. We are presenting this information because of the urgency of the current situation.

Florin19829   May 10, 2020
From the paper: "...blocking efficiency of mask fabric against aerosolized and dry airborne particles (usually less than 1┬Ám in size) is beyond the scope of this study. Our goal is to provide scientific insight in the use of home-made facemask fabrics against droplet
dissemination."

MaryLee19816   May 7, 2020
I have a question for ConsumerLab and others who have tried this: I cut an old pair of nylons into the desired length and put it over my face mask. It was indeed, a good seal. However...How am I supposed to take it off without contaminating my face? I had a really hard time doing this when I practiced....Would appreciate some tips. Thanks!

ConsumerLab.com   May 7, 2020
We reached out to the lead researcher at Northeastern, Dr. Loretta Fernandez, who was kind enough to respond with the following: "With washed hands, place the fingers under the nylon below the chin with palms facing toward the body. While spreading fingers to support the mask, lift the mask up and over the face and head. This way seems to work for us to remove the nylons without smearing the nylons along the face and head."

MaryLee19824   May 8, 2020
Thank you, ConsumerLab! I am very grateful for this website, and all the work that you do to help keep us safe!

ConsumerLab.com   May 8, 2020
Thank you for your kind words Mary.

Janet19813   May 6, 2020
Do you have link for the dishcloth fabric or dishcloth used in the study?

ConsumerLab.com   May 7, 2020
The study doesn't include information about the exact brand of dish cloth used, but it does note that it was a blend of 85% polyester and 15% nylon.

Sandra19809   May 6, 2020
In the above study on face masks made with dishcloths did it say if the material was double layered?

ConsumerLab.com   May 6, 2020
One layer of dishcloth fabric was used.

Bruce19822   May 7, 2020
It seems as though thread count would be relevant to the mask. Also microfiber can be a polyester blend or 100% polyester. Do we need more information before we conclude our homemade mask is more efficient than a surgical mask? The idea is a good one.

ConsumerLab.com   May 8, 2020
The details are available in the papers which are published online using the links above.

Mary19891   May 13, 2020
have you been able to test any existing (not homemade) masks on the market? would love to purchase some but not sure where to get quality masks.

ConsumerLab.com   May 13, 2020
We are not testing masks, but reporting on studies where masks have been tested. As far as where to get a good mask, know that any mask is better than no mask if you are going to be within 6 feet of people with whom you are not self-quarantining. N-95 respirators are the best devices but, due to the shortage, should be reserved for medical and other personnel whose jobs require close contact with infectious individuals. After that, consider KN-95 masks, but be sure to select a brand with a high filtration efficacy (see our information above) and that provides a good fit that prevents air leakage around the sides. Medical/surgical masks (the light blue masks) may be the next best option and are available. Cloth masks can also be a good option, especially if they prevent air leakage. Where to buy these? We don't have suggestions -- but other readers are welcome to comment on where they are finding products that ship in a reasonable time frame.

Mary19909   May 14, 2020
Thank you, this is very helpful : )

Susan S20004   May 22, 2020
I found boxes of surgical masks at Walgreen's recently (20 count). Made in China....


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This CL Answer initially posted on 5/5/2020. Last updated 5/29/2020.
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