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How Many Layers of Fabric Should Your Face Mask Have?

reusable face mask

Reusable Face Masks

With the supply of surgical or medical-grade masks still low, most people have opted for DIY forms of masks. From bandanas to unused t-shirts, creativity has brought up so many types of masks. But there’s a catch. Not all masks are created equal, and when it comes to preventing and transmission, cloth masks need to have a certain number of layers.

In June, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that people wear masks in areas affected by COVID-19. The mask should have three layers; a hydrophobic layer on the outside, a filter layer between, and a water-absorbing layer on the inside.

While the recommendations are clear, having such layers in a cloth mask can be tricky. So, is a two or one layer mask not going to protect you from COVID-19?

It depends.

A recent study sought to check the layers' effectiveness in a mask, compared single and double-layer cotton face masks with a 3-ply mask. For the study, researchers used a special high-speed camera and an LED lighting system to see droplets spread when coughing, talking, or sneezing. The study used a healthy volunteer.

A 175GSM cotton fabric was used to make the cloth covering while the surgical mask was a 3-ply mask. After the study, a video showed that a two-layer mask was more effective than the one-layer mask, but still not as good as the 3-ply mask. The effectiveness depended on many factors, among them design, fit, and materials used.

While 3-ply masks are the best option, they are not readily available to be used by everyone. So, the best way to go about this is to wear masks according to several preferences. First off, nurses and medical workers are at the frontline of this pandemic and have the highest exposure to the coronavirus. WHO guidelines encourage them to wear surgical masks at all times, even when not attending to patients. Also, people above 60 should wear surgical masks in crowded areas or those with high transmission rates.

Two-layer masks can be used in places where there’s minimal movement from people and less contact. You can wear a two-piece if you’re meeting with a friend in an isolated area. However, you should still maintain social distancing. They are also great for use at home and within the premises. Business owners can use two-layer masks if their business model does not involve contact with people.

You can wear a single layer mask if there’s no other option, but it is something we wouldn’t bank on. A single layer mask is quite effective, and studies have shown a significant effect when compared with people who don’t use masks at all. It is still an option but should be used in low transmission areas or places with fewer people.

Despite the variability, every single layer of coverage in a mask is more effective and better than no covering at all. Remember that masks are a general approach to fighting COVID-19, and you should maintain other measures like washing hands, maintaining social distance, avoiding gatherings, etc.


Next Up: How Does Wearing a Face Mask Protect You and Those Around You?

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