Do DIY Face Masks Really Protect You?

4 min read

Comparing 8 Common Mask Materials To See How They Stack Up

Since the advent of mask wearing for protection against COVID-19, people have been reaching for common household textiles as DIY face coverings. They’re in generous supply, cheap, and conveniently at hand...but today we ask, just how effective are they?

We’ll look at 8 different mask materials to see what they’re reallymade of. Comparing the protective power, pros, and cons of commercially available and DIY masks empowers you to make the most informed decision about your health in today’s world. Let’s dive in...


Testing The Standards: Medical Grade Options

N95 - 95% 

Surgical Mask - 75% 

Medical grade masks have been regarded as the gold standard since COVID-19 began taking the world by storm...and for good reason. These masks are constructed from short, densely layered synthetic fibers that effectively keep tiny particles from slipping through. Just how tiny, you ask? Well, let’s start with some perspective on size... 

A micron is a thousandth of a millimeter, and the COVID-19 virus is about 0.6-1.4 microns. Luckily, a single COVID virus particle never travels alone. Instead, they exist in small moisture droplets that are much larger than the virus itself.Filtration ability is measured by how effectively a material blocks the movement of 0.3 micron particles, the same size as those disease-transmitting droplets. 

*Quick Note: all percentages in this article reflect a material’s ability to filter 0.3 micron particles.

Coming in at about 75% - 96% protection, the standard medical grade masks can offer peace of mind and great protection when worn correctly. Unfortunately, the widespread need for adequate protection of medical and essential workers have made them hard to come by. 

If you’ve been relying on DIY mask options as a result, read on to discover how much protection they’ve really been giving you. 

Household Cottons and Wool

Cotton T Shirt - 50%

Canvas - 31%

Cotton Bedsheet(120 thread count) - 24%

Cashmere Scarf - 6%

Mask making materials can be found all around the home, and shortages of N95 and other medical grade options have made them an appealing choice. Cotton textiles serve up a range of particle filtration performance, from an impressive 50% down to a less reassuring 24%. Much of the effectiveness of common cottons comes down to the weave structure, or thread count, of the fabric.

The higher the thread count and thicker the threads used to make up the material, the greater the filtration power. The cashmere wool scarf is a great example. Typically woven on a loom, this light, breathable fabric is comfortable to wear but allowsmost 0.3 micron particles through. Meanwhile, the dense construction of t-shirt material and canvas creates a tight matrix of holes that cut down on particle transfer. In a pinch, these household options will give you mid range protection and some peace of mind!

Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic Velvet 13%

If fabric structure matters when it comes to blocking particles, it would seem safe to assume that velvet would be a great choice. Its fuzzy, carpet-like texture provides countless tiny upraised fibers to block out theory. In reality, this option weighs in at a meager 13%. Why? It all comes down to the microscopic structure of synthetic fibers.

Unlike natural fibers like cotton and wool, synthetic fibers are smooth. This slick texture makes it easier for small particles to slip through. Cotton textiles are a superior option because their fibers are rough and irregular at the microscopic level, effectively ‘snagging’ particles as they try to pass through. Interestingly, the highly effective N95 and surgical masks are made of synthetic plastic fibers. However, their strategic fiber-layering construction allows them to greatly surpass synthetic fabrics.

Bandanas...Common And Concerning

Cotton Bandana - 2%

The humble cotton bandana is an easy stand-in for more complicated DIY masks, readily available and attached with the twist of a knot. The ease of use, breathability, and lack of uncomfortable ear straps have no doubt contributed to their popularity as a mask option. 

However, the common use of bandanas becomes very concerning when we consider its nearly-null particle filtration efficacy of 2%. While any protection is better than none, the loose thread count and relaxed fit of this option gives little more than a false sense of security. Oh, and entry into your local grocery or retail store. 

...Then There’s Halo Mask.

Breathable Protection With Tested 99% Nano Filtration

Medical grade protection shouldn’t be difficult to get your hands on. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to protect superior safety-seekers with the most comfortable, stylish and efficient mask on the face of the Earth. Halo Mask combines our proprietary SETA™ Nanofiber filters and wear-for-hours comfort in a stylish design you’ll love being seen in. And the best part? The peace of mind knowing you’re protected by the most effective option on the market.

Find a size and style that fits your discerning safety standards here...