The Debate For And Against Home-Made Face Masks

April 16, 2020

Should you wear home-made face mask

Homemade face masks are being promoted to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. It is seen as a barrier to droplets emitted into the air when people cough, sneeze, or talk. Home-made face masks do not filter or remove virus particles. There is also a risk of exposure from the improper use of a cloth face mask. We will review arguments for and against without getting too scientific.

Why Should You Use a Home-Made Face Mask?

  1. To protect yourself from inhaling virus-containing particles.
  2. To limit the number of virus-containing particles exhaled by infected (but potentially asymptomatic) individuals. 

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) advises using simple, cloth face masks to slow the spread of the Coronavirus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face masks fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

Wearing cloth face masks has merit in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., transit, cities with dense populations, grocery stores), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Home-Made Face Masks Help Prevent The Spread of COVID-19

The verdict: Homemade masks are unlikely to protect you from infection, but they may reduce the number of virus-containing droplets exhaled by infected people. Laboratory studies find homemade masks remove only 20% of the particles exhaled by a person.

Particles exhaled by a person vary in size. Viruses hitch a ride on these particles. The largest particles which people emit through coughing, sneezing and talking are blocked by a home-made mask. Home-made masks also block these particles before they fall to the ground which lowers dispersion to others. 

As particles get smaller, these masks do not reduce the transmission or prevent exposure to COVID-19. The virus particles can stay suspended in the air for hours. They are too small for gravity to pull them down onto surfaces. Good ventilation can remove these particles from the air. NIOSH-approved face masks like N95 are designed to capture 95% of these smaller virus particles that reach the deep areas of our lungs. 

People making homemade masks have the best intentions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is critical to understand the limitations. If you choose to wear a mask, do not assume you won’t get sick. Continue to practice social distancing and isolation (elimination control) and hand hygiene (administrative controls) as much as possible.

Guidelines on Fit For a Cloth Face Masks

  • Fit is snug but comfortable against the side of the face.
  • A home-made face mask is secured with ties or ear loops.
  • Cloth face masks need multiple layers of fabric.
  • There should be no restriction to breathing.
  • Cloth face masks should not be placed on children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Cloth face masks should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use.

Best Practices To Wear a Homemade Face Mask

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water before you put on the mask.
  2. If your mask has ties, secure the bottom ties first with a bow around the nape of your neck. Then pull the mask by the upper ties over your mouth and chin and secure around your head.
  3. Wash your hands every time you touch your mask during the day.
  4. Wash your mask every time you remove it and wash your hands with soap and water after removing the mask. Put the mask somewhere isolated until it can be washed.
  5. Assume that there could be a virus on both sides of the mask any time you touch it.
  6. Wear a clean mask each time you need to put one on.

Guidelines on Cleaning a Cloth Face Mask

  • Face coverings should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use.
  • A washing machine should suffice in properly washing a face covering.
  • Individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their face covering and wash hands immediately after removing.
  • Laundering should not damage the face covering or its change shape.

Resource from the CDC on 3 styles of homemade face masks: