What's the best material for face masks?


Face mask mandates mean that many people are wondering what material works best at protecting someone from COVID-19. A new study offers some answers.

As more states being to mandate wearing masks in public and the stock of personal protective equipment for health care workers dwindles, the question of which materials are the most effective at protecting against COVID-19 becomes increasingly pertinent. A recent study looked at how well nontraditional mask materials worked.

The N99 mask was the best option found, but as the researchers noted should be left for medical professionals. The same is true of the next best options: N95 masks and surgical masks. However, inserting a vacuum cleaner filter into a cloth mask’s filter pocket showed similar efficacy. The next tier included tea towels, cotton-blend fabrics, and antimicrobial pillowcases. Scarves and cotton t-shirts provided some protection, but were found to be only a little better than wearing no protection.

The researchers also emphasized how important proper mask protocol is to getting the full effect. This includes ensuring that mask has a good seal, particularly around the nose, and that the mask should not be worn beneath the nose or tucked under the chin when it isn’t in use.

For more on the study’s findings, check out our sister publication Contemporary Clinic.

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Tina Tan, MD, FAAP, FIDSA, FPIDS, editor in chief, Contemporary Pediatrics, professor of pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, pediatric infectious diseases attending, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
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