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Reusable face masks as alternative for disposable medical masks: factors that affect their wear-comfort

KP LeeJ YipCW KanJC ChiouKF Yung
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

The coronavirus outbreak that commenced at the end of 2019 has led to a dramatic increase in the demand for face masks. In countries that are experiencing a shortage of face masks as a result of panic buying or inadequate supply, reusable fabric masks have become a popular option, because they are often considered more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than disposable medical masks. Nevertheless, there remains a significant variation in the quality and performance of existing face masks; not all are simultaneously able to provide protection against the extremely contagious virus and be comfortable to wear. This study aims to examine the influential factors that affect the comfort of reusable face masks, but not to assess the antimicrobial or antiviral potential. Seven types of masks were selected in this study and subjected to air and water vapor permeability testing, thermal conductivity testing and a wear trial. The results indicate that washable face masks made of thin layers of knitted fabric with low density and a permeable filter are more breathable. Additionally, masks that contain sufficient highly thermally conductive materials and have good water vapor permeability are often more comfortable to wear as they can transfer heat and moisture from the body quickly, and thus do not easily dampen and deteriorate.