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Study names most effective alternative face coverings

Swatches | March 1, 2022 | By:

A selection of commercially available face coverings. Photo: Debora Cartagena, USCDCP.

As the Omicron variant surges, the CDC is expected to issue more robust mask guidelines. When PPE is not available many people resort to homemade alternatives, such as bandanas and neck gaiters. Seshadri Ramkumar, a professor in Texas Tech University’s Department of Environmental Toxicology, has co-authored a study (available at evaluating these solutions as alternative materials for face coverings.

While a material’s ability to filter out viral particles is paramount, breathability is equally important. The study revealed an inverse relationship between filtration efficiency (FE) and breathability. Denim, for example, showed the highest FE, but it also had the lowest breathability of all household fabrics. According to the study, the most effective ready-made facial coverings are Velcro© masks with carbon filters and surgical masks, while the least effective are fashion face masks, single-layer face coverings, neck gaiters and bandanas. The highest-performing household materials were thick cotton shirts and towels, indicating that multilayered cotton facial coverings with proper fit are the most effective homemade mask alternative because they offer a measure of protection against viral particles without compromising breathability.

An approach using both a facial covering and a surgical mask with good fit would offer the wearer better protection against particle inhalation, Ramkumar said.

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