Cloth Face Mask: 11 Things to Know Before Buying

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In the past few days, the COVID-19 situation has started to worsen again, so the WHO and CDC made sure to come out with updated safety and infection prevention measures.

For example, CDC now urges that everyone needs to wear a mask in public. They’ve stated that this especially applies to places where social distancing is hard to maintain since the lockdown measures are lifted.

However, since health care staff is in desperate need of masks due to scarce availability, people are advised to turn to alternative masks and leave surgical or respiratory masks to health care staff and first responders.

CDC has recommended that people turn to fabric or cloth masks.

This means that we can either make a mask ourselves or buy a cloth mask in different types of shops. Cloth masks are even becoming a trend and for some people a fashionable expression that is in line with their style.

Regardless of where you get your cloth mask, you should still be aware of some things; how does the mask work, how it protects you, and how are you supposed to handle a fabric mask.

So, in the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about cloth masks.

Cloth Face Mask: 11 Things to Know

Cloth Face Mask
Image Source: Masks For Heroes

1. What Exactly Is A Cloth Mask?

A cloth maks is a non-FDA regulated mask made of common textiles and fabrics. Such a mask is often worn during epidemic situations as a safety measure or source control strategy. Cloth masks include store-bought fabric masks as well as homemade masks.

They are not proven to be effective for health care staff and patients but are recommended to be worn as an alternative to surgical and respiratory face masks.

Several types of cloth masks are now commercially available, but homemade masks (made from bandanas, T-shirts, handkerchiefs, towels, scarves, etc.) are also widely used.

2. What Is The Purpose Of A Cloth Mask?

Cloth masks are recommended in epidemic and pandemic situations to protect others and ourselves from virus-laden droplets. This means that cloth masks are supposed to protect us from other people’s sneezing, coughing, and airborne particles from entering our airway and mouth.

Their current purpose is that of source control and reducing the risk of disease transmission through respiratory droplets, in both cases of those who are infected and those who are not.

Cloth masks are not intended for health care use but can be resourced to in cases where surgical or respiratory masks are unavailable.

3. Are Cloth Masks Tested And Approved?

Cloth masks are not FDA approved, nor are they tested. These masks are alternative solutions and are not promoted or sold in place of approved and tested medical devices like surgical or respiratory masks.

Anybody can make and sell cloth masks since there are no standards. However, there are recommendations from the WHO and CDC on how these masks should look like and how they should be made.

According to FDA, cloth masks should have three layers; an inner layer that absorbs, a middle layer that acts as a filter, and an outer layer, possibly made from a non-absorbent material like polyester.

Other than that, cloth masks can only be tested for their efficiency through independent studies and research.

4. Who Should Wear A Cloth Mask?

Departments of Health across the US advise that alternative or cloth masks should be worn by asymptomatic people, and people who are not infected by COVID-19 or have no symptoms of infection.

However, CDC and the WHO advice that simply everyone (apart from health care workers and first responders) should be wearing such masks, and leave surgical and respiratory masks for health care staff and first responders.

5. Are Cloth Face Masks Effective?

Since there are no standards and regulations for cloth masks, they usually have very low filtering efficiency.

study conducted in 2010 showed that approximately 40 to 90% of particles penetrate cloth masks made from common fabrics and textiles. Since 2006, no cloth mask brand or design has been tested, cleared, and approved by the FDA.

However, certain textiles and fabrics have been tested outside their use in making cloth masks. Common fabrics (100% cotton, for example) have shown to block 51% of virus particles coughed in the air.

6. Are Cloth Masks Effective Against COVID-19?

As mentioned before, cloth masks though not the best possible protection, can still lower the risk of being infected or infecting others.

These masks are mostly recommended as a safety measure for people who may be infected but have no signs of illness.

So, when combined with other safety measures (handwashing, social distancing, etc.) cloth masks can limit the spread of the virus by helping block large droplets from coughs and sneezes.

But, it is important to emphasize that cloth masks are NOT as effective as surgical or respiratory masks, and cannot fully and alone protect us from the virus.

7. Are Cloth Masks Disposable Or Washable?

Cloth masks are reusable masks, and according to CDC can be washed and reused. CDC recommends the following washing methods;

  • Washing machine – you can include the cloth masks with the regular laundry and regular laundry detergent. The mask needs to be washed at the warmest appropriate water setting to be used again as a face covering.
  • Washing by hand – hand washing of cloth masks requires a bleach solution with bleach that is intended for disinfection. The mask should be soaked in the bleach solution for 5 minutes, rinsed thoroughly, and let to dry. You can rinse the mask using cool or room temperature water.
  • Drying – you can let the mask air dry (possibly in direct sunlight), or it can dry in the dryer (on the highest heat setting).

8. What Are The Limitations Of Cloth Masks?

  • Not regulated by the FDA, nor are there any regulation standards for cloth masks.
  • Not recommended to be used by people who are already sick with visible symptoms.
  • Considered uncomfortable for wearing due to building up of moisture.
  • Need to be regularly washed and sanitized, possibly every day.
  • Cannot be touched without immediate hand washing and sanitizing with alcohol-based sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol).

9. Are Cloth Masks Harmful?

CDC and the WHO have not sent out any official warning against the use of cloth masks. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t harmful effects caused by wearing of cloth masks.

For example, doctors in Delhi, India have listed out all the possible adverse effects of wearing a cloth mask; moisture retention, increased risk of infection of the airway, breathing difficulties, self-contamination, oxygen shortage, possible heart attacks, lung issues, etc.

These masks can also be possible sources of further infections in the body since they are, when exposed to the public and outer world, sources of viruses and bacteria themselves.

10. Where Can I Buy A Cloth Face Mask?

Caraa Sport – here you can get 5 reusable cotton/polyester masks in a pack. The masks are designed for multiple uses. They feature 2 layers of fabric and 2 elastic loops to fit around your face properly. The masks also come with a nose wire to reduce leakage.

Casetify – here you can buy high-quality cloth masks made from breathable cotton. The masks are reusable, washable, and fitted to help the wearer stay protected as much as possible. The masks can also be used with filters.

Buck Mason – here you can buy a pack of 5 anti-microbial cloth masks. The masks feature 3 layers, where the inner layer is treated with an anti-microbial coating (it lasts up to 30 wash cycles). The masks are made of the same heavyweight cotton material that is used to make T-shirts at the same company.

Ashley Nell Tipton – here you can buy wonderful cotton masks that are made with three recommended layers; 2 cotton layers and 1 piece of fabric that acts like a filter. The masks come with adjustable stripes to fit different sizes.

BNinja – BNinja is one of the Etsy sellers. At BNinja you can buy fabric masks that are handmade with 2 layers of soft cotton fabric. The masks are very stylish, breathable, and feature soft stretching earloops for more comfortable use.

Suburban50s – Subruban50s is an Etsy seller. They offer wonderful cloth masks, made in the USA. The masks feature 2 layers of 100% cotton. They also feature a pocket with a side opening that can even fit a filter.

Rainbow Hawaii Inc. – here you can buy cotton face masks with 3 layers of fabric. The masks are reusable and washable, as well as pleated for a contoured and comfortable fit. Rainbow Hawaii Inc. is a bestseller at Etsy.

11. How Can I Make A Cloth Mask At Home?

According to the CDC, here’s the recommended way you can make a cloth mask at home;

Materials needed – two/three 10”x6” rectangles of cotton fabric, two 6” pieces of elastic (rubber bands, string, cloth strips, hair ties), needle and thread, scissors, sewing machine.

Make A Cloth Mask At Home
Image Source: Masks For Heroes


  1. Cut two or three 10-by-6-inch rectangles of cotton fabric. It is recommended we use tightly woven cotton. Stack the rectangles onto each other.
  2. Fold over the long sides of the rectangles for ¼ inch and hem. Then fold the double layer of fabric along the short sides for ½ inch and stitch down.
  3. Through the wider hem on each side of the mask make sure to place an elastic. These will serve as ear loops. Make sure to tie the ends into a knot. Gently pull on the elastic so that the knots are tucked inside the hem.
  4. Now, gather the sides of the mask and adjust it so it fits your face properly. Then, make sure to secure the elastic by stitching the parts in the hem to the mask.

face mask tutorial

In case you want a non-sewn cloth mask, you can use a bandana (an old T-shirt, or any kind of cotton cloth). The bandana size should be 20”x20”. Fold the bandana in half. Then fold the top of the bandana down, and the bottom of bandana up. Now, place two rubber bands or hair ties about 6” apart onto the bandana, fold sides to the middle and tuck. And there you have it; a cloth mask in no time.

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