Masks, Masks and more Masks!
It appears that my research on fabric masks was not a waste of time! Masks have become a top news story yesterday and today. So here is a little commentary based on my research to date.
Wearing a cloth mask does not give YOU a high level of protection from COVID-19 but, if everyone wore a mask, THEIR masks would. The following is a ‘brain dump’ of information gathered over a two week period and was intended for personal use. I share my thoughts but do not prescribe for others. Hopefully it will encourage you to do your own research and reach your own conclusions.
When choosing a mask pattern, find one that fits snugly and does not gap around the edges. It must be comfortable and you should not find it excessively hot when wearing it. It should contain one or more layers of a non-woven lining material at the very least, and ideally a pocket to hold additional filter material for use when needed.
My experience has been that when wearing a mask, I touch my face less, rather than more. However, all my masks have a wire nose piece and patterns have been altered so that the masks are comfortable when worn. I wear glasses, so a tight fit along the top of the mask is essential to prevent steaming. I searched for a style that is shaped away from the lower edge of my glasses as I find this also adds to the comfort level.
“Masks collect a large amount of respiratory secretions.”
Before I begin, do you know how to wear and remove a mask safely? Much of the following applies to fabric as well as purchased masks.
Used masks lying in parking lots, on tables or kitchen counters or in other locations are a health hazard. While it is not known how COVID-19 virus survival changes under different climatic conditions, we know that it can survive on cardboard surfaces for hours.
Mask, wipes and other items used, then stuffed into a car console or door pocket, will retain germs and bacteria as well. Do you keep a seal-able plastic bag handy to store these items for future disposal?
Do you wash or disinfect your hands before removing the mask? You will probably touch your face during the process. Pull the mask away from your face folding the top half over the bottom half, then roll and fold until it can be secured with the ear fasteners. Store in your plastic bag until you can wrap the mask, wipes, etc. in paper towel and place in garbage disposal, or better still, place in the garbage without opening the plastic bag. Do the same for fabric masks until they can be washed. Don’t leave used masks exposed within your living quarters.
Change your mask frequently, – when its inner lining becomes moist. Keeping it dry is important. One article I read suggests that when your mask becomes wet through all layers, it is no longer providing any protection and you may actually be breathing and spreading more bacteria and germs. Remember COVID-19 is carried by water droplets.
If you are using a cloth mask, you need several. Each time you wear a mask, it should be stored in a plastic bag until you can wash it in hot soapy water. – I run them through the washer with hot water and then dry on high in the dryer. Do not reuse a fabric mask that has become wet with respiratory or mouth moisture.
Do not share masks.
After removing a mask, wash your face… and wash your hands again. Wash all surfaces that your mask may have made contact with.
Some Comments on my Prototype Masks
Cotton masks without filter material provide protection for other people from water droplets expelled when you speak and breathe. Masks that include a non-woven material provide a limited amount of protection to the wearer as well as those nearby. I searched for components that I had on hand as all fabric retail sites are closed and on-line sources are either running short of stock or working to produce hospital grade masks.
All my prototypes were made of batiks or closely woven cottons that were prewashed. All cottons were backed with a non-woven interfacing material (Pellon). The virus is so small it can travel through multiple layers of woven material. The non-woven backing to the fabric significantly increases the filtration level of the mask. If protection from the virus is your goal, add a hepa quality filtration material to the mask. Even then, our sewn masks do not meet the N-95 mask filtration capability. I also discovered that the filtration properties of hepa filters may be destroyed by washing them as they use ‘electro-static’ properties to collect particles. They must be removed from the mask when it is washed.
The Surgical Mask Cover
Although I originally placed this mask second in my evaluation, I would now put it in first place. It was comfortable, and fit my face well without gaps. Changing to a new mask inside is easy. The surgical mask provides the ear loops. The downside of this mask cover is that surgical masks are not currently available to the public in most retail outlets.
Because it contained a surgical mask ( purchased for use during last year’s smoke and allergy seasons), the outer side did not become moist, thus maintaining protection for others. The inner layer absorbed respiratory moisture reducing the amount that would reach the surgical mask. I was able to wear it comfortably during a medical appointment and short visits to the pharmacy and grocery store. Once I arrived home I immediately washed the cover in hot soapy water and placed the surgical mask in a paper bag to fully dry. Part of the success of this style is that the surgical mask contains a moisture resistant layer that helps prevent moisture transfer to the outside of the mask.
The Fabric Surgical Mask
This is the mask being mass produced by many home sewers. Constructed with two non-woven layers, it would be protection for others should you be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. To provide a level of protection for the wearer, it needs a filter pocket on the inside of the mask. Remember, we are to assume we may be asymptomatic and act accordingly.
This mask works for Don should he need to enter a store but gaped too much around the edges for me to wear. I found that I needed a slightly narrower width of fabric to get a better fit. Don tells me it is comfortable for short trips to the grocery store. The fabric became damp, both inside and outside, very quickly. Some patterns suggest the inclusion of a moisture resistant layer behind any additional filter along the outside layer of the mask (away from your face). This keeps the outside surface dry so that moisture is not being expelled into your surrounding space.
This pattern had three pleats equi-distance from the top and bottom of the mask. If I were to wear this style of mask I would need to add a pleat between the top of the mask and the first pleat to bring the top of the mask away from my glasses.
The wire nose piece was important for getting a good fit on this mask.
The ‘Beaked’ Fitted Mask
I initially thought this was my favorite but after wearing it to pick up a prescription I found it hot and the seal very secure – to the point that when I took a deep breath the shape of the mask collapsed! I think if I made it in the next larger size it would still be comfortable and provide sufficient protection. I like the pocket of space around the nose. With the tight seal, I found that it became quite damp during use. For that reason, I feel I need to make modifications to this pattern for future use.
Once again the wire in the top of the mask is essential for fit. The sloped top of the mask works well with glasses. As it is, this would be good for quick trips to the grocery store (protection for others) but would need a filter pocket inside to provide a significant level of protection for me.
You may ask, “why am I posting this info?” Consider it part of my 2020 COVID-19 journal of experiences this year. Use it as a reference, but remember it is just a collection of my thoughts at this time.
I probably will not share more at this time as I am finding the research and construction of masks is ‘dragging me down’. I will make masks for family members to use and leave it there. I need to maintain my health so that I have a fighting chance should this virus come my way. I need to return to other pursuits that are more enjoyable. I will continue to shelter at home and take all precautions but it is a stressful time for all of us.