Are you thinking about making a crochet mask? Are you wondering if they’re as safe as fabric masks? Do you know what type of yarn is best for making masks? Do you really have to wear a filter with them?
I wondered the same recently as I was considering what type of new masks to get for my younger son and myself. When the mask use recommendations began, I purchased fabric masks for us but they’ve since become worn so they no longer fit properly. And since we probably won’t have Covid vaccines available for the general public until 2021, it makes sense to get stocked up on masks to last the next several months.
I live in Northern California and the air quality this year has at times been the worst in the world because of the unprecedented wildfires on the West Coast. During “normal” fire seasons, we’d wear N95 masks for protection against the smoke particles but they’re not available this year because of the pandemic. That makes having some form of protective covering that much more critical in this region.
Whether purchased or handmade, I want to make sure the type of mask that I make/buy has an effective protective barrier. Neither type of mask is medical grade but there are features we can look for or build into our masks to make them offer as much protection as possible. I checked both the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov) and the World Health Organization (who.gov) for the latest guidance. This information is as of September 19, 2020.
First, a reminder from the CDC on how to properly wear a mask:
Fabric/Number of Layers
The ideal number of fabric layers in any mask is three according to the WHO website. Until recently, the CDC website also gave that guidance but when I checked last week, they now recommend two layers. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may find that observation noteworthy.
Each layer of the mask serves a purpose:
- The inside layer that is going to lie closest to your face should be made of a tightly woven fabric like quilting cotton or a cotton bed sheet that’s highly absorbent so that it will catch the moisture droplets from your nose and mouth. Also, this layer should be a light color so that you can easily tell if it’s soiled or moist, both signs that the mask should be washed.
- The middle layer can be another layer of cotton fabric or a removable filter
- The outer layer should be made of a material that repels moisture like a polyester/cotton blend.
How good is your mask?
To check your mask’s effectiveness, hold it up to a light: If you can easily see the light through the individual fibers/stitches, it’s not going to make a great filter without additional layers added.
Most crocheted masks will fail this test which makes it important to add a filter to the mask to make sure it offers effective protection.
So what makes a good filter?
Three layers of quilting cotton is recommended for the filter if you prefer to sew in your filter. If you do prefer a removable or disposable filter, consider the following:
Who knew? Polypropylene, or what crafters know as interfacing, is normally used to stabilize fabrics when cutting and sewing but the non-woven type also makes an excellent filter insert because the material not only blocks particles, it also holds an electrostatic charge (think static electricity) that traps both incoming and outgoing droplets.
PM 2.5 Activated Carbon Filters
PM 2.5 activated carbon or charcoal filters block up to 95% of airborne particles — everything from germs and dust to chemicals and pollen — thanks to several strong layers, including a high-efficiency filter cloth and an anti-stick cloth.
Crafts blogger JenniferMaker (@jennifer.maker on IG) wrote a great article that summarizes the advantages/disadvantages of these and other materials that have been used during the pandemic as filters/masks, click here to read. Try different types of filters to test how well you can breath using them.
Did you know? An outer layer of pantyhose covering your mask can create a tighter seal between the mask and your face, increasing effectiveness by 15-50%.
Researchers at Northeastern University have found that in some cases adding an extra nylon layer helped increase homemade cloth mask effectiveness by 15-50%. To do this, take a pair of pantyhose and cut a ring of material, about 8 to 10 inches top to bottom, from one leg of the pantyhose. Put the ring over your head and pull it down over the cloth mask so that it creates a tight fit to the face. Queen-sized pantyhose was recommended to make breathing easier.
This National Public Radio (NPR) article describes the study in more detail.
With the treacherous flu/Covid season ahead, using a pantyhose ring may be an easy way to increase your mask’s effectiveness.
MASKS TO AVOID
The only masks to avoid are masks with exhalation valves. Some masks have an exhalation valve near the top of the mask. The valve makes it easier to breathe out, but it also releases your unfiltered breaths, so if you’re contagious you’ll infect others. Since protecting others is the main reason to wear a mask, don’t use this type of mask.
Masks should be washed regularly, daily if you wear the mask for a good portion of the day. If the mask is stained or moist, wash it.
-Use the highest heat setting for the cloth and leave in the dryer until completely dry
If you can’t wash/dry the mask immediately, an alternative is to spray the masks with at least 70% isoprofoyol alcohol and let air dry for at least two hours.
Do you wear glasses? Look for a mask with a nose bridge wire to protect against fogging.
Based on all of this information, I felt more comfortable with making a crochet mask and now I also know what to look for when buying masks. I chose a standard pattern from Yarnspirations but there are plenty of choices for patterns on Pinterest. I used cotton yarn three layers of quilting cotton to maximize protection. But since I also need the added protection of filtering out smoke particles so I decided to keep the sides open and the middle layer removable so that I can switch it out with a removable filter on bad air quality days. Believe it or not, I can still breathe!
If the forecasts are correct, it’s possible that another two hundred thousand people will die between now and the end of the year. If you already have masks, consider buying or making more masks and adding a filter to increase your protection.
World Health Organization –
HOW TO SELECT A MASK