These 2 Materials May Be Most Effective At Filtering Air Droplets

Assistant Managing Editor By Abby Moore
Assistant Managing Editor
Abby Moore is an assistant managing editor at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Overhead of Handmade Cotton Masks and Materials

Ever since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended individuals wear face-covering or masks in public, many people started to make their own at home. T-shirts, bandannas, and hair ties have recently been fashioned into personal protective equipment. New research, though, finds that a combo of two specific materials could be most effective for filtering out droplet particles: cotton and chiffon. 

What are aerosol droplets?

The study, published in the American Chemical Society's journal (ACS Nano), explains that COVID-19 is thought to be spread through the respiratory droplets of infected people. The researchers from the University of Chicago note that those respiratory droplets can vary in size. The smallest droplets are called aerosols. 

While environmental factors, like humidity and temperature, largely determine how long these droplets will survive in the air, according to the study, larger droplets tend to settle due to gravity and don't travel as far. 

"However, aerosols remain suspended in the air for longer durations due to their small size and play a key role in spreading infection," the study reads.


Why cotton and chiffon?

In the study, researchers mimicked small aerosol droplets by releasing particles from an aerosol mixing chamber, then blew them onto various types of cloth (flannel, satin, synthetic silk, and chiffon). They then measured the size of the droplets before and after passing through each variety of fabric. 

After testing all the fabrics, the researchers found tightly woven cotton worked as an effective barrier against particles, while the chiffon held a static charge. According to the study, small particles can bind to the static in the fibers rather than passing through—this is called an electrostatic barrier. 

Masks made with one layer of tightly woven cotton (think bedsheets) and two layers of chiffon (polyester-spandex blend) filtered 80 to 99% of particles, while N95 medical masks filtered out 85 to 99%, depending on droplet size. 

Bottom line.

Finally, the chiffon from that old bridesmaid dress you thought you'd never need again might be useful after all. Just keep in mind: When making your mask, it's important to ensure it fits properly.

If there are gaps between the contours of your face and the mask, air can leak in. "Such leakage can significantly reduce mask effectiveness," the study reads, "and are a reason why properly worn N95 masks and masks with elastomeric fittings work so well."  

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