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Can DIY Masks Protect Us from Coronavirus? BY Paddy Roberson

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Can DIY masks filter out viruses and coronavirus

DIY masks to protect against from viruses sounds like a crazy idea. Data shows masks work incredibly well, and they’re also really cheap. Surgical masks cost a few pennies, and they’re capable of filtering out 80% of particles down to 0.007 microns (14 times smaller than the coronavirus).

However, the coronavirus outbreak brought with it a new problem: masks are sold out.

N95 air pollution masks sold out due to coronavirus

People have scrambled to make their own masks, but can homemade masks really protect you from the coronavirus? Smart Air has analyzed the data to give you the answer.

One Users' DIY air pollution anti-virus mask
One Users’ DIY ‘anti-virus’ mask

Testing DIY Masks

Scientists from the University of Cambridge asked this exact question in the aftermath of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic. They thought that in a global pandemic scenario, we might run out of N95 masks. Their predictions have come true during the coronavirus outbreak.

The researchers asked volunteers to make their own masks using cotton t-shirts and a sewing machine, using a simple protocol they’d devised. Next, they performed a fit test to test how well they could capture particles down to 0.02 microns. They compared the DIY masks against surgical masks.

Fit test effectiveness of DIY masks compared to surgical mask

The homemade cotton masks captured 50% of 0.02-1 micron particles, compared with 80% for the surgical mask. Although the surgical masks captured 30% more particles, the cotton masks did surprisingly well. The researchers concluded that homemade masks would be better than nothing.

DIY homemade masks should only be used as a last resort for capturing viruses

Coronavirus & Mask Livestream

Wondering whether masks work to protect you against the coronavirus? Check out our livestream recap covering all the info here!

Is that the only test on DIY masks?

The Cambridge data shows that homemade masks made using cotton t-shirts can filter out some particles that are 0.02–1 microns in size. That’s pretty good, however its only one test. Is there any more data for other DIY masks available? A group of researchers in the Netherlands tested homemade masks made from a tea cloth for smaller particles, that are more similar in size to viruses.

DIY homemade mask made out of tea cloth

They tested what percentage of particles the masks could capture for the same sized particles as the Cambridge researchers: from 0.02 to 1 micron. They also used a fit-test machine to test the masks while people were actually wearing them.

Homemade DIY tea cloth mask tests testing how long you can use them for

The tea cloth mask captured 60% of the 0.02 – 1 micron particles. Not surprisingly, the surgical mask and N95 mask captured more particles, but the data shows homemade mask was far from useless at capturing virus-sized particles.

DIY Mask Cloth Effectiveness Particle Capture

How Long Can You Wear DIY Masks for?

Next, they tested the DIY masks’ effectiveness after people had worn them for 3 hours. The results showed that moisture and time had very little impact on effectiveness for any of the masks.

In fact, the homemade masks actually captured 5.8% more virus-sized particles after 3 hours. Thus, wearing them for several hours seems to have little impact on their effectiveness.

Do Homemade Masks Work for Children?

Next, they tested homemade masks with 11 children 5 to 11 years old. When kids wore the homemade masks, they removed just 52% of the 0.02 – 1 micron particles. That means the masks were roughly 15% less effective on kids than on adults.

Homemade DIY Mask Effectiveness Children

Interestingly, the surgical masks and FFP2 (N92) masks also did worse on children. This fits with a Smart Air test of children’s masks in India that found lower effectiveness on children than adults. The data suggests that it is harder to fit masks on children’s faces.

Children's Mask Fit Test

Bottom Line on DIY Masks for Fighting Viruses

Data shows that DIY masks made with a single layer of cotton clothing or a tea towel can remove around 50-60% of virus-sized particles. This means they perform worse than surgical masks and FFP2 (N95) masks. Wearing the homemade masks for 3 hours had no significant effect on the filtration efficiency.

DIY masks also work for children, but they are less effective on kids than they are on adults.


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Covid19 coronavirus and masks livestream video

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