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What to look for in a fabric face mask—and where to buy one online

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Stay safe with a cotton face mask. (Photo: Etsy)

As coronavirus spreads, so does our knowledge of what can ward off the potentially deadly virus. Washing hands for at least 20 seconds, carefully disinfecting surfaces, and practicing social distancing can all help keep you safe.

And now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people wear cloth face masks to slow the spread of the virus in public spaces where it’s hard to keep up social distancing, like the grocery store, pharmacy, and on public transit. 

Why cloth? As you’ve probably heard, there’s a critical shortage of medical masks, and N95 respirators and surgical masks should be reserved for medical personnel. If you have any in your home, consider donating them to medical professionals in need through services like Mask Match.

According to the CDC, cloth face masks can help keep people who may have the virus and don’t know it from spreading it to others. “The main goal is to protect other people out in public,” says Jill Weatherhead, M.D., an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.

What is the best fabric for a face mask?

A team at Wake Forest Baptist Health recently found that some fabrics perform better than others. For the study, researchers evaluated 13 face mask designs from 400 masks made by community volunteers. The goal was to see which type of mask best removed particles 0.3 – 1.0 microns in diameter (the size of many viruses and bacteria) compared to standard surgical masks and N95 respirators.

The best design was made of two layers of high-quality, heavyweight quilter’s cotton, with a thread count of 180 or more. A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and an inner layer of flannel got good marks as well. “You want something with a tight enough weave to keep out SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19,” says Suzanne Willard, Ph.D., clinical professor and associate dean for global health at Rutgers School of Nursing. Easy-to-wash cotton is a good choice, says Willard, who recommends avoiding more impenetrable fabrics like polyester and rayon. They can make you sweat and dampen the mask, making it easier for the pathogen to penetrate it.

With fun colors and cool prints—who knows?—you might just enjoy wearing your new mask. Scroll down for our picks.

This cheery mask by seller PapillonTails is double-layered and comes in bright colors and prints. (Photo: Etsy)

Just like with hand sanitizer and other essentials, make sure the seller you’re considering buying from has a high rating and plenty of reviews attesting to the quality. Seller PapillonTails’ fabric masks are made from double-layer cotton and come in bright prints, including floral and tie-dye.

The antimicrobial coating will last up to 30 wash cycles. (Photo: Buck Mason)

The brand’s reusable cotton face masks feature an antimicrobial coating designed to last up to 30 wash cycles. Made with three layers of durable cotton, they’ll ship out the week of May 4; pre-order a five-pack for $20.

These come in adult and kid sizes. (Photo: Sock Fancy)

Sock Fancy is donating one mask for every one sold to frontline medical and care providers. Each one made with two layers of cotton, and an additional middle layer made of polyester fiber for particle protection. Adult and child sizes are available and there are several of prints and solids to choose from. Pre-orders start shipping April 20.

Each mask is made with leftover Indian handloom cotton. (Photo: Abacaxi)

These stylish masks are made of a reusable double-layer cotton, have an inside pocket opening for a filter, and are expected to ship by May 14. The fabric is sourced from leftover Indian handloom cotton and custom printed fabrics made in the brand’s Brooklyn, New York studio.

Reusable, in packs of two. (Photo: Be Silly Project)

Two layers of unwoven cotton come with soft elastic loops that won’t bother your ears. Grab a two-pack for $20 (was $22.50).

Get a three-pack for $25. (Photo: ShirtSpace)

Available in black and white and three sizes, these three-layer face masks come in a three-pack for $25 (was $30)

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