Tip Sheets

Focus on fit and function: Don’t dump the cloth masks just yet

Media Contact

Becka Bowyer

Americans should be able to pick up free, non-surgical N95 face masks at distribution sites nationwide starting Monday, January 24th.

Public health officials argue cloth masks are significantly less effective compared to N95 or KN95s or even surgical masks – so should you throw them out? Cornell University researchers say that may not be necessary.

Juan Hinestroza

Rebecca Q Morgan '60 Professor of Fiber Science & Apparel Design

Juan Hinestroza, professor of fiber science and apparel design, is working on creating personalized masks using face scans to make them more effective, more comfortable, and decrease waste. He says there are several factors to consider when choosing a mask.

“It’s important to warn that a very large number of KN95 and N95 in the market are fake. The public needs to be aware of this and learn how to recognize if the product actually passed the strict regulations of the N95 and KN95 standards.”

Huiju Park

Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design

Huiju Park, associate professor of fiber science and apparel design, is an expert in protective and performance apparel. He helped develop the New York state mask guidelines for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Park says:

“The fit and materials of cloth face masks significantly impact their filtering efficacy. Multi-layered, tightly woven cotton masks show a significantly higher filtering efficacy.

“Use a disposable surgical face mask (made of three layers of non-woven materials) or cloth face masks (made of three layers of tightly-woven cotton) for the best possible protection. The filtration efficacy of cloth masks made of three layers of tightly woven cotton is close to efficacy of KN95 masks. Avoid cloth face masks made with a single layer and/or stretchy materials.

“Try to use cloth face masks when possible and appropriate because disposable face masks have a negative impact on the environment due to the release of micro-plastic fibers when post-use disposable face masks are not properly handled. A new study finds three million face masks are dumped every minute globally.

“Finally, face masks can be contaminated over time. They can become transmitters of the virus. Change face masks whenever possible – and don’t use a mask twice if it is contaminated, wet, or exposed to the open air for a long time.”

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