THIS POST WAS WRITTEN IN APRIL 2020 long before masks became mandatory and/or politicized. We are choosing to leave it the way it was (no edits/updates) to reflect what we knew (and were told) at the time. 

We were all told to NOT wear masks (probably falsely). To be fair it’s easier to tell people “don’t wear masks” than to explain “if you buy all the masks you’re taking them from the healthcare workers who actually need them.” They do need them. You don’t need them but a mask wouldn’t hurt.

The government and WHO don’t want you wearing masks because

a) you’ll take critical stores from doctors and nurses

b) you’re not going to wear them correctly

c) you’re going to feel invincible or do something stupid under the guise of a false-sense-of-mask-security (like sneezing or getting too close to people).

We’re no stranger to masks. I had to wear an N95 during my pneumonia because of all the Yellow Dust (not to be confused with Yellow Fever).

Before and around this time we wore masks all the time. It’s what you do in Asia. So we can provide a crash course of Masks 101.

Do I need a mask?

Probably. We know the virus can stay on surfaces for up to 72 hours (“SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces“) which is why everyone says “wash your hands, don’t touch your face.” But this same study showed the coronavirus can stay in the air for 3 hours. That sorta makes it airborne.

Chances are you can’t buy a mask (all sold out). And you shouldn’t buy them anyway since the doctors need them. So make one.

Studies Show…

A surgical mask would, in theory, stop 89% of .02-micron particles. Coronavirus is between .05 and .2 micron. In another test done the surgical mask caught 80% of particles down to 0.007 micron.

So obviously a mask is worth your time. Many studies have looked at how efficient homemade masks are, including the picture above. A 100% cotton t-shirt can protect you from 51% of .02 micron particles. Even a scarf or something over your face is probably going to catch around 50% of particles. Another study showed a cotton t-shirt protecting against an average of 63%. Cotton blends could be up to 74%.

Okay, you say, cleverly, I’ll just layer two t-shirts. That will be over 100% protection. Sorry but no. Layering with like-material only adds about 1-2% more protection.

I don’t care about all this tell me what the best mask to make is!

Vacuum bags. Technically vacuum bags protect you as well as a mask can. People are also getting very clever with using air filtration filters (like for your house).

BUT you aren’t going to be able to breathe very well with a vacuum bag-mask. You know how earlier we were talking about how people aren’t going to wear their masks correctly? If you can’t breathe in your mask you are going to take it off. And taking it off isn’t dangerous, you think. You know how a swimming pool filter grate has leaves and dead frogs and moss all over it. You should just pretend that the outside of your mask looks like that. You’re pulling dirty stuff into the outside of your mask when you breathe. You wouldn’t touch the outside of it without washing your hands. You wouldn’t pull it down if it was covered in all that shit.

If/when you make your own mask you are going to have to make a choice about what you want to use as the filter? T-shirts, air filter, vacuum bags? You will have to keep breathability in mind. 2 t-shirts are 3% easier to breathe through than a surgical mask. A vacuum bag is 104% harder to breathe through. Two dishtowels (which could offer up to 97% protection) are a whopping -128% more difficult to breathe through.

So the best solution is some kind of blend, Hong Kong and Malay scientists propose a “three-layer structure of a “replaceable filter cloth mask”: the outer layer is dense, the middle is the same as the surgical mask, and the inner layer is soft and breathable! The Ministry of Health and Welfare of Taiwan also advised non-medical personnel to choose this type of “cloth mask” on 2/26/2020!” This checks all the boxes, multiple layers of protection with breathe-ability. Also some people argue some kind of wicking action is nice to keep it dry and less warm. A wet and warm place is a great breeding ground for bacteria.

The solution for this is a face mask you sew at home that has a place for a removable inside layer. Their recommendation is something “non woven.” Non woven just means something that was chemically made/melted/air-laid together that resembles cloth (think wet wipes, sanitary pads, disposable cloths, glasses cleaning cloths, reusable shopping bags).

So you sew one layer (a beautiful outside layer) and cotton inner layer (overlapping) and between these layers you can put whatever you want.  It’s a removable option so you can choose different things at different times. You can put a vacuum bag for 93% protection, house filter (95%) or nonwoven cloth (a dried out wet wipe, coffee filter, gauze) – all similar  materials to a surgical mask which is 80% efficient  Even a paper towel could filter out 33% of .3 micron, and as a bonus it’s breathable and moisture wicking.

The problem people have with masks

They aren’t air-tight. But if they were you would die of carbon monoxide poisoning. The studies are difficult to do. When you shoot particles at surgical masks they protect against 80% of particles. But actually wearing the mask means there are holes around your nose or cheeks or chin. Wearing a mask is different than shooting particles at it.

A surgical mask, on a real human face protected against 63% of particles. Keep in mind these particles were ten times smaller than coronavirus. Yet other studies say it goes as low as 44%.

But you know what the bottom line is with all of this? 44% is better than 0. Even 10% is better than 0. We can’t be the pessimists looking at the other 56% of particles the mask may or MAY NOT (all the studies are different!) be missing. If you go outside without a mask you are not protected. It would be comparable to saying “I’m not going to wear a condom because they have a 14% failure rate, what’s the point?!”

I choose not to wear a mask

That’s great. But don’t stare at or shame anyone who chooses to. We should start normalizing because while they’re not perfect they’re not a bad idea. Asia has used them for years (our teen students used to use them to hide acne, and average people wear them as a courtesy to others for when they are sick). There has been a lot of mask shaming by people who don’t believe it’s serious or the masks do anything. Keep comments to yourself.

If you are shamed for wearing a mask “I’m not wearing it for my protection” is a very easy clap-back.

How to wear your mask (homemade or store bought)

  1. Your mask must go over your nose and mouth. Your nose is indeed part of your respiratory system and you know they’re testing noses for the coronavirus (because it hangs out there). So needless to say any orifice you can breathe from should be covered.
  2. A good mask (homemade included) will have a metal bar (bread ties, aluminum foil or pipe cleaner). Find this on your mask and put it over the bridge of your nose (just under where your glasses go). Pinch it tight around your nose to stop air from getting in/out.
  3. Pretend the outside of your mask is as filthy as a truckstop bathroom. NEVER touch the outside of your mask unless you wash your hands afterward.
  4. Don’t just cough or sneeze in it without covering your mouth WITH YOUR ARM. Pretend it isn’t there and continue to cover your mouth. It won’t block all the water droplets. Below shows how air moves. Normal breathing, coughing, coughing into hand, coughing into sleeve, coughing into a dust mask and coughing into a surgical mask.

    Clearly nothing is going to block it. Which is why you still need to maintain social distancing (don’t get closer than 6 feet to other people) and wash your hands. Even if you have a mask. And don’t just cough into your mask and think it will protect people around you!

  5. Do not pull it down to talk to people, to itch and especially don’t pull it down to cough or sneeze. Try not to adjust it (see #3)
  6. Do not pull it from your face (when you pull you stretch and open holes). Remove it gently, like you would from a puppy’s face.
  7. Continue to stand 6 feet away from people (1 meter) and wash your hands frequently. The mask isn’t going to change any of your other habits, it’s just going to provide extra protection to you and others around you.
  8. You can just talk normally and be chill. You’re voice will be a little muted but people will be able to hear you fine. It will just be a little strange at the beginning to talk through it.
  9. If you take it off (say you go to the store and then drive across town and want to take it off in the car) be careful. Theoretically virus could be hanging out on the outside of it. Be mindful you don’t crumple or fold it. If you must remove it and put it germ-side down and carefully put it back on without exposing your face to the outside. To be safe, once you put it on keep it on until you’re done for the day.
  10. Always wear the same side out (eg if you make a mask use a different fabric for the “inside” so you can tell it apart). Even when washing a mask you want to just stay consistent on which side is “out”.

Homemade masks:

Try not use for longer than 3 hours (because of risk of bacteria growing in moist environment. Some people suggest panty liners may help with this). We’re talking a trip to the store or running errands.

Change any filter and wash in hot water before using again.

Don’t poke unnecessary holes in it when sewing it (try not to use pins to hold in place, try tape or iron seams down).

You probably won’t be able to buy elastic at the store so make sure your mask is pulled tight with whatever cordage you use.

Glasses tips

  • scuba divers use spit as a natural anti-fog. Very questionable with diseases spreading right now
  • Rain-X used to make an anti-fog agent for car windows
  • Cat Crap (great name) is an anti-fog cleaner
  • BEST ONE fold a tissue over your nose before your put it on (Tokyo police suggest this). Chris tried this, it works.
  • some people are putting panty liners inside the mask to absorb moisture

Do it for others

Up to 25% of people could be asymptomatic (or presymptomatic) carriers. That means when you go to the store or buy wine or just go to the store again because you’re bored you could be accidentally infecting others.

Let’s just all come to terms with the fact our government is never going to be able to test everyone. Just because you feel fine doesn’t mean you are.

China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Czech Republic have encouraged (or required) all of their citizens to wear masks in public. This is community thinking – we don’t know who has it, so let’s be careful. Other countries have had it longer than we have (even if the USA has more, now) so we should look to what worked/works for other countries instead of reinventing the wheel.

Pretend like you have it. All the time. Don’t say hi to a neighbor while standing close to them. Don’t cough without using your arm. Just pretend like you have it until this all blows over.

Do it for yourself

“While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,”  aka CNN says “Experts tell White House coronavirus can spread through talking or even just breathing” (source).

The CDC is slowly getting there. Obviously it wants all healthcare professionals to wear masks but is reluctant to recommend homemade masks (including tying a bandana around the mouth) because “homemade masks are not considered PPE (personal protection equipment), since their capability to protect … is unknown.” (source). Everyone is saying “wear masks or don’t. Make them out of this material or that. We don’t know.” No one knows how effective they are so no one is going to formally recommend them. Personally, we feel more secure wearing them, we wore them in Asia and more people are starting to wear them.

Make a mask

We made 8 of these in an afternoon, but we luckily found a sewing machine in the depths of our closet. They are awesome too, the design includes an inside pocket that you can fill with the non-woven filter of your choice.

And if you don’t have a sewing machine – Try this one.

Keep in mind elastic is sold out in most stores (since everyone is making a mask). So you can use ribbon, paracord, stretchy bungie, or really any rope. We found some nylon and suede cord. The only downside is that you have to tie and retie it a few times to find the perfect fit.

Mask DYI

Washing your mask

You should wash your mask after every use, and the goal is to sterilize them as much as possible without stretching the fibers.

The CDC says that your average washing machine with regular detergent is sufficient. Another source said to use a high temperature/low agitation setting. Consider using a mesh bag to protect the strings.

You can dry them in a dryer, but beware shrinkage. Air drying will also be good enough.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.