Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

The most and least effective cloth face masks to protect you from coronavirus

Published Jul 3rd, 2020 8:58PM EDT
Coronavirus Face Masks
Image: Amazon

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

  • A coronavirus face mask study details the differences between some of the most and least effective cloth face coverings that you can buy or make yourself.
  • The study explains that any kind of face mask will ultimately work, reducing the spread of particles resulting from a cough or a sneeze.
  • The coronavirus spreads with the help of these invisible droplets, which can travel through the air, and even linger around in certain conditions.
  • The use of any mask is much better than no face mask, the study proves. So use one!

Years from now, when historians — or what’s left of civilization — look back at the great COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, they’ll have to talk about the face mask controversy that hindered global efforts to contain the illness. There’s increased adversity to wearing masks in certain communities, and it has nothing to do with the science.

Face coverings of any kind are recommended for outdoor use to reduce the spread of the virus. But politicians in the US and abroad managed to turn this life-saving tool into a political weapon, giving it a deeper meaning than it actually has. A mask will not prevent you from breathing normally, and it will not infringe upon your freedom. But it can save lives, including yours.

Not all people oppose masks, and there are plenty of types of masks to choose from now that there’s not a shortage of PPE. If you can’t find face masks in your immediate area and you’ve run out of existing supply, you can always make your own, and there’s new research that shows exactly what types of cloth masks are effective at blocking pathogens, and which ones are best to avoid.

Researchers from the Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering, Florida Atlantic University, published a study about face masks in the Physics of Fluids journal. The scientists used a mannequin and laser cameras to observe how different types of face mask materials can obstruct respiratory jets that appear while coughing and sneezing.

Existing research shows that the tiny saliva particles expelled during coughing, sneezing, talking, and singing, can be laden with the virus. These particles can travel well beyond the six feet that are designated as safe in social distancing guidelines, especially the smaller droplets that turn into aerosols. That’s why face masks combined with social distancing can help in real-life settings.

The authors pushed smoke through different types of cloth face masks on the mannequin and then looked at how far the respiratory droplets were able to travel in the air after passing through the barrier.

The conclusions are not surprising. The use of face masks can reduce the spread of particles significantly. A regular bandana can reduce the spread to an average of 3 feet and 7 inches. A folded handkerchief is even better, dropping the range down to 1 foot and 3 inches. A stitched mask made of quilting cotton can reduce the spread to 2.5 inches. Comparatively, commercial masks made of various materials and featuring a random set of fibers, like a CVS Cone Face Mask, reduce the spread to 8 inches. What the study didn’t cover are medical-grade face masks, which have been widely studied.

The findings indicate that any face mask will limit the spread of particles, even if leakage is a problem, which is the case for loose-fitting homemade masks. “We note that it is likely that healthcare professionals trained properly in the use of high-quality fitted masks will not experience leakage to the extent that we have observed in this study,” the researchers wrote.

The following images from the study show how far the particle cloud traveled for each of the various types of face masks the scientists studied.

Homemade face mask made by folding a handkerchief:

Coronavirus Face Mask Study
From the study: “(a) A face mask constructed using a folded handkerchief. Images taken at (b) 0.5 s, (c) 2.27 s, and (d) 5.55 s after the initiation of the emulated cough.” Image source: Siddhartha Verma, Manhar Dhanak, and John Frankenfield

Homemade face mask stitched using two-layers of cotton quilting fabric:

Coronavirus Face Mask Study
From the study: “(a) A homemade face mask stitched using two-layers of cotton quilting fabric. Images taken at (b) 0.2 s, (c) 0.47 s, and (d) 1.68 s after the initiation of the emulated cough.” Image source: Siddhartha Verma, Manhar Dhanak, and John Frankenfield

An off-the-shelf cone style mask:

Coronavirus Face Mask Study
From the study: “(a) An off-the-shelf cone style mask. (b) 0.2 s after initiation of the emulated cough. (c) 0.97 s after initiation of the emulated cough. The leading plume, which has dissipated considerably, is faintly visible. (d) 3.7 s after initiation of the emulated cough.” Image source: Siddhartha Verma, Manhar Dhanak, and John Frankenfield
Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.