Medical-grade masks, like surgical masks and respirators, should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 3 million Americans are required to wear a respirator mask, such as an N95 mask, while at work. These employees are required to complete an annual test to ensure their mask fits and forms a tight seal around their nose and mouth before using it in the workplace. Additionally, once fitted and every time a respirator is worn, a user seal check is completed to ensure no particles can enter under the mask’s edges.
These factors have led to the CDC’s official recommendation that the general public should wear a simple cloth or homemade mask, and avoid the use of medical-grade masks such as N95 respirators and surgical masks.
Before considering wearing a mask, those who already have trouble breathing, are under the age of 2 or cannot remove the mask without assistance, should not wear a mask.
How to Get a Cloth Mask: Local Retailers*
Probably the quickest and easiest way to get ahold of a cloth mask is at a retail store near you. Many national chains now supply cloth masks, but consider visiting one of these local minority and/or female-owned retailers!
- Alterations by Frances, has been serving Fort Thomas, Kentucky, for more than 10 years by monogramming, altering and repairing clothing. She altered her services to offer cloth masks to keep our community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Graffiti Pressed, LLC is a brand new company that specializes in vinyl or sublimation products fit for any occasion. Consider a customized cloth mask by visiting their Facebook page or e-mailing email@example.com.
- Hutch Baby is located in Over-the-Rhine, near downtown Cincinnati. They sell upscale, eco-friendly clothing, and now sell adult and children’s cloth masks. Their storefront recently reopened.
- Llonnelle creates three-layered, non-medical face masks using 100% cotton, as well as an interfacing fabric which is part of the same fabric family as N95 masks, providing an extra layer of protection.
- Loveworn provides upcycled clothing (and masks) from 100% recycled fabric. Within a span of just two months, they distributed over 3,500 cloth masks using a mile and a half of elastic band and over 700 recycled t-shirts.
- MJ Serenity Boutique is an Etsy shop that provides 100% cotton face masks for adults and children.
- Originalitees, located in East Walnut Hills, which is minutes from downtown Cincinnati, provides comfortable, original clothing (and now cloth masks) for wearers of all ages.
- Robot Inside Crafting Company is generously donating one mask to a frontline worker for every cloth mask purchased.
- Sew Valley provides resources to apparel designers and entrepreneurs by offering physical workspace and educational workshops. They offer cloth masks packs of two, five, 10 or 20.
If you are feeling creative and have a little extra time to spare, consider making your own cloth mask. Homemade cloth masks can be made from many of the materials you already have at home, such as t-shirts, bedsheets or a bandana.
Consider the thread count of the fabric you are choosing, however. For cloth masks, select a higher thread count fabric, like a bedsheet, which usually ranges between 200-800 threads – making it less likely for potentially infectious particles to escape. Materials, such as t-shirts, have a lower thread count of 40-50 threads per square inch, making them slightly less effective.
The CDC provides easy step-by-step instructions and images on how to make a no-sew and simple sew mask, or read below.
Materials: Cotton or cotton-blend fabric (enough for a 20 inch by 20 inch square) and two elastic bands (rubber bands or hair ties would work well).
- Using a t-shirt, bandana, bedsheet or other fabric material, cut a 20 inch by 20 inch square.
- Fold the fabric in half.
- Fold the top portion of the fabric down one-third of the way, and do the same for the bottom portion of the fabric.
- Place your fabric through the loops of your two elastic bands; the bands should be spaced about 6 inches apart.
- Fold the far ends of the fabric over the bands on both sides towards the middle.
- Tuck the fabric in.
Materials: Two 10 inch by 6 inch rectangles of fabric, two 6 inch elastic bands, a needle and thread, scissors and sewing machine.
- Stack your two 10 inch by 6 inch rectangles of fabric.
- Fold the long sides of the fabric down by ¼ inch and hem.
- Fold the short sides of the fabric over ½ inch and stitch down.
- Run one of your 6 inch elastic bands through the short side hem and tie the ends of the band. Repeat on the other side. These will be the loops for your ears.
- Position the tied end of the bands inside of the hem.
- Gather the short sides of the fabric/mask and adjust the fabric so it covers your mouth and nose.
- Stitch the elastic bands in place so they don’t slip.
Tip! For both no-sew and sewn-masks, try adding a copper or wire ribbon above the nose to make the mask more fitted.
Whether you make your mask at home or buy it from one of the local retailers listed above, make sure it has at least two layers of fabric to prevent the spread of potentially infectious droplets that are released when you speak, cough or sneeze.
How to wear your cloth mask: Cover your nose!
Your cloth mask should fit snug on each side of your face, under your chin and completely covering your mouth and nose. The elastic bands or ties around your ears should be secured to ensure the mask doesn’t fall off. Even with the snug fit, make sure your mask allows you to breathe without any major restrictions.
Because your mask is protecting you and others from potentially infectious droplets, there is a chance that the virus can cling to cloth masks, which is why it is important to understand how to safely take your mask off and sanitize it before your next trip out.
Safely Taking Your Mask Off
- Wash your hands using soap and water (for at least 20 seconds).
- Grab the loops or ties around your ears. Do not touch the front of your mask or your face.
- Fold the mask in on itself so that the part of the mask that was exposed to the environment is now contained.
- Put your mask directly into the laundry for washing and dry it on a high temperature setting. Or, you can hand wash your cloth face covering using hot, soapy water and scrubbing the mask for at least 20 seconds.
- Wash your hands using soap and water again.
Sanitizing Your Cloth Mask
The effectiveness of your cloth mask is not only dependent on its material and overall fit, but also how well and often it is sanitized.
Jennifer Wall Forrester, MD, UC Health Infectious Diseases specialist and associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, explained that, “Handmade masks should be cleaned after each and every use. This can be done with a standard washer and dryer unit using hot water or by hand. If you have a white mask, using bleach solution is also an effective way to sanitize your mask.”
Cloth Masks ARE Effective
“Maintaining social distancing, more than 6 feet and wearing a mask in public areas are still the best tactics to preventing the spread of the virus,” Dr. Forrester emphasized. “This is because the droplets dispersed when a person coughs, speaks or sneezes generally fall to the floor within 6 feet. This can happen even if someone is asymptomatic. With stay-at-home restrictions being lifted and public entities reopening, it is strongly recommended, and sometimes even required, that patrons wear a mask.”
Homemade masks are a great and generally inexpensive way for the public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “It is recommended that two layers of fabric be worn to prevent the wearer from spreading potentially infectious droplets that are released out of their mouth and nose when they cough, sneeze or talk around others,” Dr. Forrester continued.
She also states that, “The mask stops most of the virus from coming out of the mouth, right then and there, so those droplets are unable to spread to everyone else around.” If there are some remaining infectious particles in the air, wearing the mask can stop some of those from being inhaled by the wearer themselves.
Finally, the mask is a simple reminder not to touch your face as much as possible.
Are cloth masks perfect? No, cloth masks won’t completely prevent the spread of the aerosols, such as liquid droplets from a sneeze or cough, but they will reduce the amount that is distributed into the environment. Therefore, reducing the chance of others becoming infected.
With the increasing number of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers, possibly due to more available testing, the recommendation of wearing a mask is simply an easy precaution the general public can take to continue to slow the spread of the virus and prevent a second wave of infection.
*UC Health does not endorse the above retailers. These links are provided for convenience and for informational purposes only. UC Health has no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external sites. Please contact the external sites for answers to questions regarding their products or content.