If Your Mask Doesn't Have Three of These, It's Not Really Working

A new study finds that using this type of face covering filters 90 percent of particles.

As the pandemic has progressed, one thing has become increasingly clear: face masks help stop the spread of coronavirus. Scientists have also been able to study the different types of masks that are available to gain a solid understanding of the best types to use to keep the public—and even the person wearing the face covering—safest. Now, a new study has added to the mounting evidence that your mask isn't fully protecting you if it doesn't have at least three layers of fabric. Read on for the details, and for more advice on what masks not to use, check out If Your Face Mask Has One of These, Stop Using It Immediately.

Researchers at Virginia Tech University tested 11 different types of face masks, including nine cloth masks made from materials such as coffee filters, a cotton T-shirt, and other fabrics as well as a face shield and surgical mask, Yahoo! News reports. And there was a clear winner.

"We recommend now based on this study that people use a three-layer mask," Linsey Marr, PhD, a leading aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech and co-author of the study, said during a press conference on Nov. 23. Specifically, Marr recommends a mask in which "the outer two layers are a tightly woven but flexible material that allows the mask to conform to your face," with a layer made of vacuum bag or filtration material in the middle. If that's the case, your face covering could allow filtration as high as 90 percent, the researchers found.

The findings back up a study published in the journal Science Advances in September out of Duke University. For that report, researchers tested 14 different masks' ability to block respiratory droplets, and they found that other than N95s, a three-layer surgical mask allowed the fewest number of droplets to get by its barrier. And coming in third was a three-layer mask with polypropylene acting as a filter between two layers of cotton.

Read on to find out more about how your mask performed in the study, and for more on what other health officials have to say about PPE, check out The Only Reason Dr. Fauci Doesn't Endorse a National Mask Mandate.

Read the original article on Best Life.

Two-layer masks made of certain materials do a solid job, too.

Man wearing a face mask outside during the coronavirus pandemic

To determine the results, scientists used a mannequin face attached to a nebulizer to simulate exhalation and talking set across from another face that was inhaling to test different masks, including ones made from bandanas, vacuum bags, coffee filters, and HVAC filters.

The researchers found that while three-layer materials were clearly superior, Marr added that a fabric with a "good, tight weave" could also make some two-layer masks feasible. And for more on how to keep yourself safe, check out Don't Spend More Than This Long in the Grocery Store, Doctor Warns.

The researchers were focusing on the best homemade options specifically.

Homemade protective mask and pieces of cloth on a gray background. Selective focus.

The Virginia Tech scientists conducting the experiment were quick to point out that, unlike the Duke researchers, they didn't include medical-grade N95 masks—which are named such for their ability to trap at least 95 percent of particles—because "for practical reasons, having the general public run around in N95s is a challenge because of the shortage," Marr explained.

But the most useful discovery of the experiment is that even a homemade DIY solution can be greatly beneficial to those who choose to make their own mask. "It's not something I would ask a health care worker to wear in high-risk situations," Marr said. "They need the best protection we can get. But given that it's impractical to have everyone in the general public walking around wearing an N95, I think homemade masks are definitely helpful." And for more on what works best, check out The Materials You Need to Make the Perfect Face Mask.

They determined that masks protect the public and the wearer.

woman with face mask looking out the window on a bus

With the study, Marr and her team set out to determine whether masks were beneficial beyond just stopping the spread of the virus. By testing the efficiency of different types of masks, they also discovered which could provide another level of protection.

"Filtration works both ways," Marr said. "If it works for source control, it's going to work pretty well for exposure reduction to protect the wearer also," which means that any mask efficient enough to stop particles from being exhaled into the air will also be good enough to keep them from being inhaled. And for more up-to-date information on COVID, sign up for our daily newsletter.

But masks aren't the only answer.

coronavirus outbreak - woman wash hands with surgical mask .

Still, researchers were quick to add that masks aren't the only thing that will bring about the end of the pandemic. Following other public health guidelines can also play a huge role in keeping everyone safe.

"No one study by itself is going to tell you the whole story," Marr said. "And no one intervention—masking, social distancing, hand washing, indoor ventilation—will stop the spread of COVID-19 alone. The mask is one of the many interventions that we need to combine together." And for more on coronavirus guidelines, check out The CDC Is Now Warning You Not to Go to This One Place.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
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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