This Popular Face Mask Isn't as Effective as You Thought, Study Finds

If you're looking for the best results, don't use one of these to DIY your own face mask, scientists say.

As COVID-19 numbers begin to surge in areas around the country, public health officials keep coming back to one simple mandate to keep the virus from spreading: Wear a face mask when social distancing isn't possible. And while making a homemade one for yourself is still an incredibly effective way to keep COVID-19 at bay, not all DIY face masks are created equal. So, what sort of fabric should you avoid? Well, according to a recent study, you should steer clear of bandanas if you want to keep yourself and others safe from the coronavirus.

A new study from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) compared different materials from around the house that could potentially be used to make a homemade non-medical cloth face covering. The research found that uncovered coughs sent droplets traveling more than eight feet, three feet when covered by a bandana, eight inches with a cone-style mask, and two and a half inches with a properly fitted two-layer quilted cotton fabric mask, making that the most effective of the fabrics tested.

"Loosely folded face masks and bandana-style coverings provide minimal stopping-capability for the smallest aerosolized respiratory droplets," the FAU scientists concluded.

The research also determined that a higher thread count by itself is not more effective against COVID-19. In the FAU experiment, the bandana had the highest thread count, but was the least effective.

man wears bandana over nose and mouth

Researchers said they undertook the study to better understand the types of face covering materials that may be available—or ultimately resource-friendly—for most people. "While there are a few prior studies on the effectiveness of medical-grade equipment, we don't have a lot of information about the cloth-based coverings that are most accessible to us at present," Siddhartha Verma, study author and assistant professor at the Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering at FAU, told CNN.

Similar research has found that while the type of material is important in determining the effectiveness of a face mask, a tight fit can be crucial to ensuring it works properly. One recent study published in the journal ACS Nano found that "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."

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Ultimately, experts say that using a well-made DIY mask is a good way to keep yourself safe while making sure medical-grade supplies make their way to the healthcare workers who need them the most—as long as it's not a bandana, of course. And if you want to know how to keep your PPE nice and clean, check out how Doing This to Your Face Mask Kills 99.9 Percent of All Germs.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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