Using face masks is common practice elsewhere in the world, but the United States is quickly becoming familiarized with the practice. In many East Asian countries, masks are worn at different times of year to help protect people from breathing smog or spreading germs, say, if they have a common cold.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC has now officially concluded and recommended that we should wear masks. Though homemade masks, or cloth masks, are not as effective as the medical masks being used in hospitals, they provide enough protection to make them worthwhile. Furthermore, any of the serious medical-grade mask that are out there should be going to the medical professions.
So, in order to go out as prepared as possible, here’s a quick rundown of what makes a good mask, how to put one together at home and where we should be wearing them.
What Makes a Good Homemade Mask
According to a study published by Cambridge University Press, vacuum cleaner bags are thought to be comparable to surgical mask in filtering effectiveness. As a result, the good people at eVacuum Store have provided step-by-step instructions for how to make a face mask from the appropriate vacuum cleaner bags. And, at least for the time being, the necessary bags are available for purchase on their site.
Another material that performed well in the study, one we are more likely to have at home, is cotton fabric: dishtowels, high thread-count sheets or jeans. The gist behind using cotton for a mask is that the tighter the weave, the better the blockage. A basic test for this is holding the fabric up to a light. Choose the material that blocks out the light the best. T-shirts, handkerchiefs and scarves are second tier options.
On the other hand, paper towel masks, despite YouTube videos and online instructions, have been found to be virtually ineffective.
How to Make a Mask from a Dish Towel
Most of us will have a dish towel or cloth napkin (or similarly sized cuts of cotton material) at home, and these items can easily be converted into a face mask with nothing more than the material and a couple of rubber bands.
- Start by spreading the material out on a flat surface.
- Fold two opposite edges so that they meet in the center.
- Flip the fold material over so that the flaps are now facing down.
- Repeat step two, folding the same (but now closer) opposite edges so that they meet in the center.
- Flip the material back over. At the point, there is a line down the center of both sides of the cloth.
- Put a rubber band (or hair band) around each side of the material, leaving enough space between them to function as a mask. It’ll look a little like a tootsie roll now.
- Fold the outer portions of the material into the center, over the rubber band, so that they meet in the middle.
- Flip the material over one more time.
Now, that’s a pleated cloth face mask. The rubber bands loop around the ears, and the pleated mask can be adjusted to fit snugly around the nose and under the chin.
Where We Should Wear Masks
As fun as the DIY mask is to don, a sort of Zoro-like mysteriousness, medical professionals are not suggesting that we need to wear them everywhere. The modus operandi is to put them on when we go to essential places where people congregate, such as the supermarket, hardware store or mass transit.
Even with social distancing in order, sometimes we can’t help but break boundaries or get into airspace where someone might have coughed, sneezed or spew out saliva droplets. While these masks can’t fully filter out coronavirus microbes in the air, they do prevent larger droplets that might pass between people. By no means do DIY masks fully protect us from COVID-19.
They have, nevertheless, now been recommended by officials, with them citing “better than nothing” as a valid reason. Because the virus can be spread via aerosolized particles that make it through these rudimentary masks, wearing one isn’t a license to ignore social distancing or go to places frivolously.
Who Should Be Wearing Them
All people capable of wearing masks, including children, should do so when needed. DIY medical masks are just one more way we can protect ourselves and neighbors by being responsible with our actions. In reality, we are first wearing them for others in case we are unknowingly infected: The mask will block our saliva droplets and the aerosolized virus. The masks, though not foolproof, have also demonstrated the ability to protect the wearers. Stay safe.
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