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You’ve probably come across a thousand and one tutorials about how to make a coronavirus face mask — including using a bandana, a scarf or even a T-shirt — but you still might be searching for a mask that’s absolutely no effort at all.
After the CDC advised in early April that everyone should be wearing a mask when going outside, sales for face masks have soared. And that means cloth masks have been selling out — sometimes almost immediately, like in the case of J.Crew’s gingham masks.
You’ve probably seen small stores and big businesses turn to making cloth masks, from the fashionable floral face masks at Christy Dawn to the stylish embroidered cloth masks from Lele Sadoughi. Even shops on Etsy are mass-producing masks — so much so that Etsy saw sales double last month because of it.
Austin-based Kingsted, a T-shirt company, moved to making masks after it saw a dip in business with canceled orders and fabric not moving from the production floor, founder Eddy Levy told HuffPost Finds. Now, the company is producing masks that follow CDC guidelines using leftover materials they had for T-shirts.
“Being able to use what we had in inventory was essentially us making lemonade out of lemons,” Levy said.
“Being able to use what we had in inventory was essentially us making lemonade out of lemons.”
Many brands are now pivoting to manufacturing cloth masks for the masses, as well as for essential workers. Reformation, the sustainable fashion brand, partnered with the city of Los Angeles to manufacture masks for essential workers in an initiative called LA Protects. To date, Reformation has produced more than 300,000 masks at its own factory, donating an additional 23,000 to nonprofits and health care partners, according to Yael Aflalo, founder of the brand.
And since more brands are beginning to make cloth masks for personal use, you need to know what to look for when buying a mask online. (After all, you can’t see them IRL until they’re delivered to your door).
Below, we asked the experts what to look for when buying a face mask online, and rounded up some of the most reliable retailers making and selling cloth face masks right now.
Here’s what they had to say.
Why should you be wearing a cloth face mask in the first place?
There is still a lot we have to learn about the novel coronavirus. But what we do understand is that it appears to spread through close contact from person to person, according to the CDC and the World Health Organization.
While the CDC has said that “we are still learning about how the virus spreads and the severity of illness it causes,” the virus is thought to spread through respiratory droplets that happen when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks. In turn, these droplets get inhaled or can just land in another person’s mouth or nose.
So why wear a mask? Well, it’s not really about protecting yourself — it’s actually about protecting those around you. A cloth face cover is supposed to help protect others in case you’re infected, the CDC said in one of its guides.
As experts that HuffPost has talked to have said: Act like you already have coronavirus, especially since asymptomatic coronavirus carriers can still spread it.
Rodney Rohde, chair of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State University, said that it’s not just about wearing masks, either, when going out in public. People should “keep in mind that all other precautions like hand hygiene, physical distance, and other public health etiquette still applies even if wearing a mask,” he said.
“In my mind, it’s about being a good citizen for the overall public health good to protect everyone.”
“In my mind, it’s about being a good citizen for the overall public health good to protect everyone,” Rohde said.
So if you’re reading this, you probably should be wearing a mask when you go to get groceries or run errands. But there are caveats. According to the CDC, children under the age of 2 and those who wouldn’t be able to take off a mask without help shouldn’t wear them.
No, you shouldn’t be buying the kind of masks doctors wear.
Health care workers are in desperate need of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment, or PPE. That includes masks.
Back in March, WHO warned that panic buying medical masks would put healthcare workers’ lives at risk. Right now, there’s a global shortage of N95 masks — the kind that doctors and other health care workers use when treating patients with COVID-19.
“In an ideal setting we would have enough masks so that our essential workers would be able to change their masks and gloves on a regular basis,” said Erin M. Sorrell, an assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. “We unfortunately are not in that position.”
With that in mind, you should not be buying surgical masks or N-95 respirators — the CDC calls them “critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.”
Instead, you should be looking for cloth face masks or making cloth face coverings with what you have at home.
What should a cloth mask be made of?
There are lots of face masks that you can order online now, but you’ll want to keep the following guidelines in mind before adding any to your cart.
A recent study said that denim, bedsheets and towels are among the best materials to use for a DIY face mask — all of which you can find around the house. Generally, the CDC recommends masks made of “cotton fabric.”
You’ll also want to look for masks made with more than just a single layer of fabric. Rohde said the studies he’s seen show that two-layer masks performed better than ones with a single layer.
Sorrell recommends looking for fabrics that are tightly woven, like cotton. If you’re unsure about a mask, you can hold it up to the light — if “light doesn’t come through, then the fabric is probably thick enough,” she said.
And while you’ll want to find a fabric with a tighter weave, you do need to check that you can breathe properly with it on, Sorrell said. That’s an especially important point as summer nears, since you don’t want to wear a mask that’ll make it hard to breathe when it’s hot. Both Sorrell and Rohde agree that cotton masks are likely the best choice.
Cloth face masks should...
- Be made of tightly woven, breathable cotton fabric
- Consist of two layers of fabric or more
- Comfortably fit without slipping or gaping
- Be washed after every wear
What about those cloth masks with filters?
Both Rohde and Sorrell agreed that a filter can offer more protection.
“It is better to have a filter in your mask if at all possible,” Sorrell said.
She recommends using a HEPA filter, which is an acronym for high-efficiency particulate air, and inserting it in the pocket of your cloth face mask.
You can also use a coffee filter that you can replace after each use, according to the CDC’s guide to DIY face masks. Experts HuffPost previously spoke with said that coffee filters and paper towels are affordable options that are easy to find in your kitchen ― but they can’t be washed or reused.
Filters must be sandwiched between two layers of fabric so you don’t inhale filter materials.
How should your face mask fit?
Most of the face masks we’ve seen online have either tie straps that go around your head or elastic ones that go behind your ear. You’ll want to make sure that those straps stay secure.
Your face mask should fit comfortably so you’ll actually wear it. That means a mask shouldn’t slide down your nose, and it definitely shouldn’t be loosely tied, Sorrell said.
How should you wash your cloth face mask?
You should wash your mask every time you use it, and it’s best to machine wash, Sorrell said. (We recommend tossing them into a lingerie bag so they don’t get tangled with other laundry items).
You can also hand-wash your cloth face mask with warm water and soap — just make sure that it’s completely dry before reusing, Sorrell said.
The CDC recommends drying a mask in a hot dryer and storing it in a clean container or bag.
How many cloth masks do you need?
How many cloth face masks you should have depends on how much you’re leaving your house. But Rohde recommends having two to four masks per person, so that when one’s washing, you have another to use.
Where can you buy cloth face masks online?
Some of the most unexpected places are now selling masks. These brands — including Anthropologie for adults and Maisonette for kids— aren’t completely overshopped, so they still have face masks in stock.
Keep in mind that since face masks are in especially high demand right now, you might experience shipping delays. There are some brands that have masks on backorder until later in May or mid-June.
In our list below, we made sure to include when masks are supposed to ship out.
Take a look:
Note: This article was revised to remove L.A. Apparel from its list of recommended places to buy face masks after recent news about the spread of coronavirus in its factory.