The most effective design, according to the study, was a dual-layer heavyweight cotton mask with a thread count of 180 or more. A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and inner layer also performed well, said Segal. Poor performers in the study consisted of a single-layer mask or a double-layer mask of low-quality, lightweight cotton.
“Some of these cloth items being sold are focused only on the decorative or artistic aspect,” Segal said. “You need to think about the effectiveness and the public health aspect of it. We don’t want people to think just any material is enough and give them a false sense of security.”
Some masks also allow for the ability to insert an additional filter, like a high efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter.HEPA filters are designed to clear out at least 99.7 percent of particulates that are 0.3 microns or larger in size. For reference, a micron, or micrometer, is about one twenty-five thousandth of an inch and designated with an μm. That can add an additional layer of filtration, said Segal.
Additionally, consumers should also find a mask that can be easily washed and is comfortable, said Anna Davies, a research facilitator who previously worked in the Infectious Diseases department at the University of Cambridge. “If you can’t breathe through it very well, you’re not going to want to wear it very long and air takes the path of least resistance so it’ll just bypass the material and go out the sides,” she said. “The wearer shouldn’t be touching their mask once on, so ideally a soft fabric is good.”
While shopping for a face mask, here’s the bottom line: Comfort, washability and dual-filtration is key. But above all else, keep practicing social distancing, washing your hands and other precautions, no matter what type of mask you have on.
Where to shop face masks giving back to relief efforts
There are numerous companies making and selling face masks online. If you’re shopping for your own face mask, we’ve compiled those face masks whose listed features and materials adhere to the CDC’s criteria on what you should be looking for, as well as to the expert guidance we share above. On top of that, we narrowed the options down to only those brands who say they plan to give back a portion of their supply or proceeds to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each protective mask is made of two layers of 100-percent cotton, with adjustable straps and a multi-layer filter. Masks are sold individually or in a multi-pack. In addition, the company has pledged to donate 10 percent of profits from the sale to SF-Marin Food Bank and Food Bank NYC.
The sustainable fashion brand Reformation has partnered with LA Protects, an initiative created to produce five million non-medical grade masks for community members. The company is also separately selling packs of five face masks for donation for communities in need (including essential workers). Their cloth masks are reusable with ties and come in different prints.
The maker of eco-friendly mattresses is making 100-percent organic cotton fabric face masks available in packs of four. They can additionally allow for a separate filter to be inserted. The brand has so far made more than 130,000 non-medical grade masks, and will be donating on percent of sales to the EcoHealth Alliance.
Rails has paused production to produce packs of five non-medical grade cotton masks that are reusable, machine-washable and made with assorted fabrics, including cotton. For every pack purchased, the company will donate a pack to essential workers in need in Los Angeles. Additionally, the company is donating 10,000 medical-grade masks to hospitals in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans and Detroit.
The fashion company is producing cloth masks in packs of two. The reusable 100-percent cotton masks are made with a double layer of fabric. The company is also participating in the LA Protects program, which helps to produce face masks for those in need in Los Angeles.
The company is creating non-medical, reusable face masks using up-cycled fabrics. Onzie has additionally donated thousands of masks to local hospitals in Los Angeles and will donate proceeds from every purchase to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. They are also a member of LA Protects.
Available in packs of five, Buck Mason’s masks are designed to last up to 30 wash cycles and will ship out the week of May 18th. For every mask purchased, the brand will donate one. So far, they’ve been able to donate more than 150,000 masks to healthcare workers.
The company has pivoted to create cotton face masks in packs of three. For every mask sold, the company will donate a mask to those in need in the Los Angeles community, specifically the West Los Angeles Hospital and local senior centers. The masks are made with 100-percent cotton and are machine washable.
These reusable masks come in plenty of different styles and are designed to be used with a filter, such as a HEPA filter, inserted within the fabric. The masks were developed with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and are one-size-fits-most. Each purchase provides a mask for you and a donation of one for a frontline worker
The clothing company has repurposed their sewing facility to produce masks for front line responders. They’re also making masks available to the public, which are currently on pre-order. The masks are machine-washable and are double-layered with cotton fabrics — you can get them in packs of five.