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What material is best for homemade masks?

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source have recently updated their guidelines on the use of face masks during the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The updated guidelines recommend wearing a cloth covering or a mask when it is difficult to maintain physical distancing, such as when shopping.

But research into whether reusable cloth masks can slow the spread of the new coronavirus has resulted in contradictory findings.

For example, some recent studies suggest that reusable masks made of cotton may be ineffective at filtering droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Could other materials prove more effective? This is the question that researchers — from the University of Chicago and the Argonne National Laboratory, both in Illinois — have aimed to answer in a new study.

Their findings, featured in the journal ACS Nano, suggest that certain fabric combinations may go some way toward halting the spread of the new coronavirus.

How well the mask fits is also crucial

In their study, the team experimented with various samples of cotton, chiffon, flannel, silk, spandex, satin, and polyester — on their own and in combination.

They tested the fabric to see if it could filter out tiny aerosol particles. This is because researchers believe that SARS-CoV-2 may disseminate not just through droplets — for instance, from coughs — but also through minute particles that spread when people simply breathe, which are much harder to catch.

The team fanned particles measuring 10 nanometers to 6 micrometers in diameter over the various fabric samples at an airflow rate similar to that of a person’s breath when they are at rest.

The researchers found that a sheet of tightly woven cotton — of 600 threads per inch — plus two sheets of chiffon, made from polyester and spandex, seemed to make the most effective combination, filtering out 80–99% of the particles, depending on their size.

The team even suggests that the performance of this combination is comparable to that of N95 masks, which are used by healthcare professionals.

Other combinations that perform well, according to the researchers, are tightly woven cotton plus natural silk or flannel, and cotton quilt with cotton-polyester batting.

The researchers explain that combinations involving a fabric with a tight weave, such as cotton, and one that can hold a static charge, such as silk, are likely effective because they provide a double barrier: mechanical and electrostatic.

Yet they emphasize that for these masks to be truly effective, they have to fit very snugly.

“The effect of gaps between the contour of the face and the mask, as caused by an improper fit, will affect the efficiency of any face mask,” they write.

Future studies, the researchers point out, should also pay attention to other potentially relevant factors, including the effect of humidity on mask performance and whether reusing and washing homemade masks may reduce their effectiveness.

COVID-19: What you can do right now to stay safe

In the face of increasingly widespread fears of a COVID-19 pandemic, what concrete steps can a person take right now to prevent the infection? Read our practical guide based on official sources.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

To date, public health officials have reported tens of thousands of casesTrusted Source of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

This situation has caused many people around the world to feel anxious about becoming infected, and social media outlets and public forums abound with questions about how to keep COVID-19 at bay.

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This Special Feature is a practical guide that describes the best ways to avoid a respiratory infection at home, at work, at school, and while traveling.

The recommendations that we outline are based on those of official sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), and the American Red Cross, as well as our correspondence with a WHO spokesperson.

How to stay safe where you live

“Based on the information received so far, and on our experience with other coronaviruses, COVID-19 appears to spread mostly through respiratory droplets (when a sick person coughs, for example) and close contact,” a WHO spokesperson told Medical News Today.

In light of that information, the spokesperson said, the WHO recommend preventive actions to minimize exposure to droplets.

During day-to-day activities, people can take the following measures to prevent infection, in accordance with WHO guidelines:

  1. Clean the hands regularly with an alcohol-based sanitizer, or wash them with soap and water. The CDC also make this recommendation, advising that sanitizer should contain “at least 60% alcohol” and that people should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Clean surfaces — such as kitchen seats and work desks — regularly with disinfectant.
  3. Avoid crowded areas when going out, for people over 60 years old and people with any underlying health problems.
  4. Try to avoid close contact with people who display flu-like symptoms, including coughing and sneezing.
  5. Get accurate information about COVID-19. Some good sources include the Pan American Health Organization and WHO websites.

The American Red Cross also advise against touching the mouth, nose, or eyes when out and about, before having a chance to wash the hands.

Also, the CDC recommend getting the flu shot to prevent other seasonal respiratory infections.

How to stay safe at work and school

Work and school environments may seem particularly daunting in the context of an outbreak, but some simple measures can help prevent infection in the office or classroom.

They are largely the same as those outlined above. According to WHO recommendations, the following are the most important preventive steps:

  1. Regularly clean work surfaces and objects in continual use, such as phones and computer keyboards.
  2. Regularly wash the hands with soap and water or use sanitizer.

In recent telebriefings, CDC officials advised anyone who is concerned about the potential impact of COVID-19 to get in touch with employers and schools to find out exactly what response measures they have in place.

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How to stay safe while traveling

For people who are planning to travel, all of the same basic hygiene recommendations apply. The WHO advise:

  • cleaning hands on a regular basis
  • keeping at least 1 meter’s distance from people who are coughing or sneezing
  • following COVID-19-specific travel advisories from local authorities

What if you have flu-like symptoms?

What happens if you start experiencing flu-like symptoms despite your best attempts to stay healthy?

The WHO spokesperson who responded to MNT queries offered the following advice:

  1. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue, then dispose of the tissue immediately and clean your hands.
  2. If you feel unwell, stay home and call your doctor or a local health professional.
  3. If you develop shortness of breath, call your doctor and seek care immediately.
  4. If you are sick: Stay home, eat and sleep separately from others in the house, and use different utensils and cutlery.

The WHO spokesperson also gave us some travel-related advice for people who have flu-like symptoms and are either contemplating travel or have just returned from a trip.

They explained that:

  • Anyone with a fever or cough should avoid traveling.
  • Anyone who develops symptoms on a flight should inform the crew immediately and, once home, contact a health professional and tell them about the locations visited.
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