From scarcity to choice
In the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak we saw panic buying of blue “surgical” facemasks until, realizing the more urgent need of healthcare workers, governments began to urge the general public not to buy surgical masks.
At that point people turned to DIY facemasks which were sometimes home sewn, sometimes cut from socks or a t-shirt, and sometimes creatively constructed from water containers – but all the while the public were rightly concerned at the efficacy of these homemade solutions. Where possible, the public still preferred the apparently safer surgical masks.
Now, as governments around the world increasingly require the public to wear face masks in communal spaces and as supply chains have normalized there is an increase in the availability, design and use of both manufactured cloth masks and surgical facemasks.
Efficacy should not be a concern
With daily wear there are clear economical and environmental benefits to using a washable face mask, not to mention the simple comfort of wearing natural fibres next to your skin. But still there is doubt amongst the general public as to the effectiveness of cloth masks.
However these worries can now be put to rest as a recent scientific study* concluded that there is: “No significant difference between a medical and cotton mask for droplet prevention.” In fact, it appears the true significant factors to consider are not ‘cloth vs medical mask’, but instead comfort, wearability and good mask-hygiene habits. A September statement** from the French National Academy of Medicine highlights this point: “If the alternative masks have slightly lower performance than the surgical masks in terms of filtration and sealing, they generally offer better comfort and “breathability”. This is important in terms of routine mask wearing amongst the public.
“… [fabric masks] generally offer better comfort and ‘breathability‘…”
Not all reusable masks are made equal
Of course not all cloth masks are made equal. The general recommendation is for a mask to be made using a tight woven fabric comprising several layers and to fit well. However, this level of protection can make users feel suffocated, and this in turn reduces mask wearing.
Thanks to our initial testing with the French government research laboratories, the Intermed Touchpoint masks not only comply with all the current worldwide protocols and guidelines*** in terms of filtration, but the smart fabric technology provides one of the highest rates of airflow at 400L/M3 on the first use, and at least 200L/M2 after 50 washes. This adds significantly to user comfort and mask wearing.
Touchpoint masks are also designed for fit with excellent coverage and ear loop adjusters that gently slide to ensure a snug mask fit. Because the masks are made of 100% cotton they are soft against the skin, and wick away moisture keeping the skin cooler than with other masks on the market. The Silvadur antibacterial finish also keeps the mask smelling fresher for longer.
The importance of good mask wearing habits
Without good mask hygiene, wearing a mask is all for nothing. A UK government survey**** published in August reported that 15% (about one in seven) of washable, reusable mask wearers have never washed their face mask! Clearly this creates a health hazard that makes the ‘cloth vs surgical’ discussion irrelevant.
It is possible that people worry their mask will become ineffective with washing. This may be the case with some fabric masks as the weave will loosen with washing, but Touchpoint smart fabric technology has been laboratory tested to show that filtration standards are still met after 50 washes.
Other bad practices include frequently touching the mask as this affects the effectiveness of the fabric filtration, as well as increasing the risk of cross contamination. Dampness is also an issue as this decreases the filtration efficiency and also reduces airflow and user comfort. In line with WHO recommendations, The French National Academy of Medicine emphasizes that masks should be changed when they get wet and never be worn more than one day!
In conclusion, wearing washable facemasks makes sense for budgetary reasons, for comfort and for the environment. The main factor reducing a cloth masks’ protective effectiveness is not ‘cloth vs surgical’, but in fact our own bad wearing habits.
*** AFNOR SPEC S76-001 , CEN CWA17553, FDA (April 24 2020) and WHO (June 5 2020)
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