Selecting the right mask materials is important for the comfort, fit, and function of fabric masks. Fabric masks are designed to cover the mouth and nose to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Fabric masks consist of three basic parts: 1) the mask body, 2) head ties or ear loops, and 3) a flexible nose piece.
For more information about the science and research behind the mask material recommendations visit:
- The Big 4: Criteria for Community Mask Materials
- 5 Key Considerations for Clear Masks
- The MakerMask Research Blog
1. Mask Body
The mask body is formed from multiple layers of fabric (the WHO recommends 3 layers), which are designed to act as a barrier to droplets. For the outermost mask layers consider water-resistant or hydrophobic fabrics (e.g., spunbond nonwoven polypropylene). For the innermost mask layers absorbent materials such as cotton may be considered.
Spunbond Nonwoven Polypropylene (NWPP)
Despite being called “non-woven,” NWPP is pressed with a cross pattern that gives it a woven appearance. Look for a tag in the bag that says, “100% Polypropylene.” Reusable shopping bags are a common source of NWPP. Ensure breathability before use. Do not use NWPP that is waterproof or insulated. For more information about mask materials check out: The Big 4: Criteria for Community Mask Materials.
Close-Up of “Dimpled” Pattern of NWPP
2. Head Ties/Bands
Head ties or silicone bands hold the mask comfortably in place on the head so that it doesn’t move or shift during use (e.g., while talking or walking, etc.). Head ties/bands are preferred over ear loops as they hold the mask more securely in place. Cloth ties and/or silicone bands are preferred over elastic as most sewing elastic contains latex, which may cause severe reactions in individuals with a latex allergy and does not generally hold up as well to the high heat disinfection and/or sterilization.
Silicone Bands (Latex-Free)
Silicone bands are an alternative to cloth ties to hold mask securely in position on the head. Cooking grade silicone bands (e.g., Grifiti Band Joes 9” x 0.25” Silicone Rubber Bands) are preferred because they are latex-free, compatible with high-heat cleaning/disinfection techniques, and are easier to put on and take off than head ties. Silicone bands are a longer-lasting, latex-free alternative to traditional elastics and also improve mask accessibility. Not recommended for use as ear loops.
Cloth Ties (Latex-Free)
For securing the mask to the face, bias tape is a great option and commonly found at craft stores. Alternatively, ties may be fashioned from clean strips of NWPP, or can be made from cotton. If other materials are selected, ensure that they are machine washable, can be disinfected/sterilized, and are long enough to tie around the head.
3. Flexible Nose Piece
The flexible nose piece improves the fit of the mask to the face, reduces gaps between the face and the mask, and helps reduce fogging of glasses. Requirements for nose pieces is that they should be stiff but flexible, adjust to the individual user’s face, and should be washable.
Coffee Bag Tin Ties
The larger surface area (¼” wide) compared to other nose piece options improves the contact area between the mask and the nose, improves fit, and decreases fogging of glasses. Added Advice: Place masks with flexible nose pieces in lingerie bags before washing to reduce wear and tear on the masks.
Other thin pliable metal (e.g., pipe cleaners, coated paper clips or jewelry wire) may be used. Be sure to dull or bend the ends of these strips to prevent injury to users.