The M Word (video)

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 3.12.13 PMI’ll never understand why Masks are causing such a political tempest. Whatever the reason, though, the whole “my mask protects you, your mask protects me” isn’t working.

Most people I see out and about continue to oppose the only obvious personal and communal safeguard against the still mostly mysterious COVID-19, whether with a cavalier won’t-wear attitude or by improper use. I see flimsy masks worn low over the neck and chin, loose bandanas repeatedly tugged back up with germy hands, masks removed inside store entrances, and so on. You’ve seen it too.

So, if this virus is more insidious than previously thought, if most people are perfectly willing to defy common sense, and since there is still no universal mask mandate in the United States, I need a mask I can count on to protect me, not just my fellow shoppers in the produce aisle. And so do you. Here’s what research suggests, and a practical home-sewn solution.

The F words. Fabric, filter, fit

Without getting too much into the details – these virus particles are reported to be approx. 0.1 micron in size. Most of the cute, quickly mass produced homemade masks on the market allow particles of much larger sizes through, which generally makes those masks something less than 20 percent effective at even filtering out 0.3 micron size,* source below.)

I’ve made the “cup” style, the “duck bill” version, the “Olson” mask, and the pleated version which is the best we’ve used so far. It fits securely, provides good layering with breathability,  has no holes or seams in the breathing area, is easy to put on and take off; and it can be easily sized to accommodate various ages, sizes, and big facial hair. It features:

  • two pleated layers of good quality, tightly woven washable cotton (How to tell? Hold the fabric up to the light. See-through? Too lightweight. Pinpoints of light showing through? Too loosely woven.)
  • a filter pocket for a nonwoven filter (that is, material that has been formed by pressing/fusing, not weaving. How to tell? If you can see crisscrossing threads, it’s a woven fabric.)
  • a wire across the bridge of the nose to prevent air infiltration from the top
  • elastic that holds the mask securely in place to prevent incoming air from the sides and bottom.

The trick is finding the right filter material when most conventional materials are unavailable. We have had success ordering sew-in Pellon interfacing from EBay, and we like the much less expensive but effective ToolBox non-fiberglass disposable blue shop cloths from Lowe’s which we cut and insert before each wear. Getting more creative, two other interesting solutions we use are the blue and white material used in hospitals to wrap and store sterile surgical instruments, and a single layer of non-fiberglass, anti-allergy HEPA vacuum bag that provide 99.97% particle filtration. At this point, I have to add, as my son says, !!! We are not doctors and are not pretending to be them on the internet – We are just are offering solutions backed by the information put out by scientific sources !!!

These are the masks I wear and what I make for my friends and family. (Ours also include a second wire to hold the mask out away from our faces.) I’ve watched a BUNCH of instructional videos and like this one a lot. “Easy Sew Face Mask,” on YouTube.

If I had a child starting school in a month, we would be practicing wearing masks right now that actually protect us, and we would hope you’d do the same — this style or something else with these specifications. To find yours if you don’t sew, web search pleated face mask with filter pocket and nose wire. That will get you started, then make sure you locate a filter fabric that will protect you while providing the necessary comfort for all-day wear. States are reopening, and school is about to start. It’s time!



Afterthoughts — Being able to wash your mask after each day’s wear is important. So is social distancing. A good mask doesn’t negate that part.

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