Face masks seem to be emerging as an important accessory to any outfit as Canadians start to settle into ‘the new normal.’
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, is now recommending that Canadians wear non-medical face masks if they are unable to maintain a distance of two metres from those around them.
The message has been reinforced by health officials in different provinces, who are encouraging residents to wear non-medical masks or facial coverings in communal settings, like public transit.
Various grocery store chains are also asking employees and shoppers alike to wear face coverings before entering stores. Additionally, Transport Canada has made it a requirement for air passengers in the country to wear non-medical masks or face coverings during flights.
As different provinces continue to loosen lockdown restrictions, adding a cloth face mask to your wardrobe is something many Canadians are considering. Whether you’re looking to purchase one or make your own, here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for the right cloth mask:
HOW SHOULD I CLEAN MY CLOTH FACE MASK?
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), non-medical masks and face coverings that can be reused should be washed after each wear.
Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, a York University professor specializing in molecular biology says this step is crucial because it’s hard to know for sure whether a mask has come into contact with respiratory droplets containing COVID-19. As a result, she says, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“When you walk outside, the face mask might get contaminated by respiratory droplets that are out in the air, but also from…potentially your own virus particles,” she told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Monday. “You want to wash your hands when you go inside – you should do the same thing with your face mask.”
In line with PHAC recommendations, Golemi-Kotra suggests placing your cloth mask in a washing machine and running a hot cycle to clean it. If this isn’t possible, she recommends soaking the mask in a mixture of hot water and laundry detergent for about 30 minutes. Following this, be sure to rub the fabric to remove any dirt that may also be carrying virus particles, and thoroughly rinse the mask.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) make recommendations similar to PHAC, stating that cloth face coverings should be cleaned after each use and that a washing machine should be used to do so. The health agency suggests using regular laundry detergent with the warmest water setting possible based on the type of fabric used to make the mask.
Another option suggested by the CDC for washing cloth masks is to use a bleach solution made by mixing five tablespoons of household bleach with about 3.8 litres of room temperature water, or four teaspoons of household bleach with one litre of room temperature water. The organization recommends soaking the mask in the solution for about five minutes and rinsing with cool or room temperature water.
It’s important to note that bleach is meant for disinfection. It should also not be used past its expiration date, nor should it be mixed with ammonia or any other cleanser.
But Lisa Bryski, an emergency room doctor based in Winnipeg, says the use of bleach while washing cloth face masks by hand raises some concern.
“I don’t agree with that because I’m not certain if bleach can be fully washed off properly,” she told CTVNews.ca on Monday via telephone. “It may leave people breathing in bleach.”
Instead, similar to Golemi-Kotra, Bryski recommends using water with either a laundry detergent or dish soap to wash face coverings by hand. Be sure to scrub each section of the mask for at least 20 seconds and rinse it through entirely, she said.
“Soap is our superhero right now – soap acts to break down the virus and to detach the virus from whatever surface [it’s on], including skin,” she explained. “That’s why it’s so effective for hands.”
Equally as important as washing your mask is drying it. Masks should be completely dry before they are used again. The CDC advises drying cloth masks at the highest heat setting offered by your dryer and leaving them inside until completely dry. If this is not possible, the agency also points to air drying as an option, suggesting that the mask be laid completely flat to dry and in direct sunlight, if possible.
Bryski says air drying your face mask can be risky if kept in a place where it could potentially come into contact with the virus. She reminds people to exercise caution and pick a location where the risk of contamination is low.
HOW SHOULD I STORE A CLOTH MASK I’VE ALREADY WORN?
If you aren’t looking to wash your cloth mask immediately after taking it off, Golemi-Kotra says it’s OK to store it with your other laundry, preferably in a basket with a lid that can close.
If you’re on the go, Bryski recommends storing your mask in a plastic or paper bag until you get home. According to PHAC, cloth masks should be changed as soon as they get damp or dirty.
Similar to recommendations made by the CDC, both experts point out that cloth masks can also be washed together with other clothing. Bryski even suggests placing it into a mesh bag to protect it from damage in the washing machine.
“You don’t want the fabric to break down, you don’t want the loops to break down so that it suddenly gives away while you’re wearing it in public,” said Bryski. “It should be considered a delicate for wash.
“Do the same as you would with your underwear or anything that you consider as a delicate fabric.”
HOW MANY CLOTH MASKS SHOULD I HAVE?
Though it would be ideal to have seven cloth masks available to use throughout the week, professor Golemi-Kotra recommends having at least three on hand.
“Washing [your mask] everyday may be a bit onerous,” she explained. “So it would help if you could at least have a few spares.”
Considering the importance of washing your cloth mask after each use, Bryski strongly suggests having more than just one mask on hand.
WHAT FABRIC SHOULD I OPT FOR?
Both Bryski and Golemi-Kotra each suggest cotton as the best option for a cloth face mask, preferably one with a high thread count – either 80 per cent or above. Golemi-Kotra explains that cotton fabrics with a higher number of threads do a better job of filtering out microorganisms than those with lower thread counts.
“As the thread count in cotton fabric goes up, the pore size of the fabric goes down,” said Golemi-Kotra. “This prevents the filtration of smaller particles including [COVID-19] virus particles.”
New evidence points to the efficacy of using multiple layers of cotton cloth to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Other studies show that fabrics such as natural silk and chiffon, while not as effective as cotton, still offer better protection from particles than flannel or satin. She also points out that cotton is one of the cheaper options available.
Based on recommendations from PHAC, non-medical masks or face coverings should comprise of at least two layers of tightly woven fabric. Golemi-Kotra explained that one layer of fabric likely won’t do much to protect someone from potentially contracting or spreading COVID-19. But adding even just one extra layer, she said, makes a difference.
“A single layer wouldn’t do much – whatever you’re breathing out will easily pass through this layer of cotton,” she explained. “But if you put a second [layer], studies showed 90 per cent and above of virus particles were prevented from passing through.”
PHAC also points to the use of a paper towel sheet or disposable coffee filter for added protection. Golemi-Kotra also suggests these can be used as filters, but advises to stay away from the use of mechanical air filters, such as vacuum filters, since they often contain chemicals that can be harmful when inhaled.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE FIT OF MY MASK?
According to recommendations made by PHAC, non-medical masks or face coverings should allow users to breathe easily and fit securely with ties and/or ear loops. These masks should also be able to cover the entire nose and mouth comfortably without gaping or being too tight. Masks should not be placed on children under the age of two, based on guidance from PHAC.
Bryski emphasizes the importance of a snug fit, not only to limit the spread of potentially infectious respiratory droplets, but also to prevent people from constantly readjusting their masks.
“A good fit for a mask is important so that you aren’t fidgeting with it,” she said. “Our faces are very sensitive and a bad fit where it’s slipping and you feel like it’s slipping [means] you’re going to be more likely to touch your face, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
When looking for the right cloth mask, Bryski points out that it should not irritate the eyes or impair vision. She also recommends looking for one that features an adjustable metal strip around the nose to prevent the mask from slipping off and keep those respiratory droplets from spreading. Be sure that the loops are an appropriate size as well and that the mask can be tucked comfortably under the chin.
Before leaving the house, Bryski even suggests moving your head and the different parts of your face to make sure you have a snug fit.
“If [your mask] doesn’t fit right and if it’s not put on correctly, the protection of others from your own respiratory droplets…can be compromised,” said Golemi-Kotra. “You can have the best cloth face mask but if you don’t use it properly, it becomes useless.”
HOW SHOULD I REMOVE MY MASK?
PHAC recommends removing your face mask by first untying any strings from the back of your head or removing the loops tied around your ears. Avoid touching your face, as well as the front of the mask, while doing so. Bryski even suggests leaning forward to prevent any unnecessary contact with the rest of your face.
But even more importantly, stated both experts, is washing your hands both before and after handling any face mask.
“The reason why the hands have to be washed prior to removing [your mask]…is so that your own hands do not contaminate the face as you’re trying to remove it,” said Golemi-Kotra. “Once you remove [the mask], you also want to wash your hands because you just don’t know what you’re mask has captured.”
All in all, despite the amount of effort required in handling face masks, cloth or otherwise, Golemi-Kotra asks that people be vigilant and keep an open mind.
“These are extraordinary times and they do require extraordinary efforts,” she said. “Yes it is uncomfortable, I can totally appreciate that sometimes it creates a feeling of suffocation but be patient with yourself and make an effort to wear it so you can save others around you.”
WHERE CAN I PURCHASE A CLOTH FACE MASK?
A number of fashion brands and other companies have started manufacturing their own cloth masks for sale. Masks typically range from about $15 to about $50 in price.
Roots Canada has altered its leather factory in Toronto to be able to produce reusable face masks. They are sold in solid colour styles as well as the brand’s iconic salt and pepper print. The masks have been selling fast, but you can sign up for an email alert to be notified of when they’re back in stock. They retail for $22 each.
Gap Canada is currently selling its own face masks for pre-order. Available for both children and adults, these masks are made of triple-layer cotton and come in different colours and patterns. One pack of three costs $20.
Old Navy also has its own adult- and kid’s size face masks available for pre-order. For either children or adults, a pack of five masks costs between $15 and $16.99 depending on colour and pattern. A 10-pack of adult-size masks is also available for $30.
Vancouver-based clothing brand Kit and Ace looking to launch its own cloth masks in the first week of June, each one retailing for $15, according to its website. Customers can sign up for the company’s newsletter for an email alert as soon as they’re available to order.
Arraei, another clothing brand out of Vancouver, is offering sustainable face masks made of repurposed fabric. They’re available in three sizes, toddler, kids and adult, and nine different colours. These cloth masks sell for $12 each across all sizes.
Nonie, a womenswear brand based in Calgary, is manufacturing reusable masks made entirely of cotton. The face coverings come in two sizes – for children and adults – as well as four designs, and each come with a sleeve for a removable filter. Each mask retails for $33. They can also be bought in pairs for $55.
UNTTLD, another Montreal brand, is offering more than a dozen adult-size face masks in a number of styles and colours. The masks some with a filter and adjustable nose wire for a customized for. Each mask retails for $50.
The Canadian outerwear brand Mackage has created an face cover with adjustable straps and a flexible nose strip. The mask comes in two sizes, small and medium, and is available in nine different colours. While the brand is currently out of stock in both sizes, customers can sign up for email alerts of when the product becomes available again. Each mask sells for $38.
Pony, another brand based in Montreal, is selling washable cloth masks in eight different styles for $18 each. Masks are available in four sizes, for use on children ages 7 and up, through to teenagers and adults. Each mask also comes with a removable nose clip.
Ellie Mae, a womenswear brand based in Toronto, is selling cotton and polyester face masks available in 13 different styles. Made with repurposed fabric, these masks feature a pocket for adding a filter sheet, as well as bottom ties that go around the neck. They retail for $20 each.
Toronto-based clothing brand Peace Collective is selling their own reusable face masks for both children and adults. These cotton masks come with a nose wire and filter pocket, and are available in several different colours and designs. The masks are sold in packs of two, three, six and 12, with prices starting at $30.
Toronto tattoo shop Chronic Ink is offering its own face masks as well, some of which feature designs drawn by its artists. The collection of neoprene and polyester face masks come in various designs and colours. One mask starts at $20. Masks are also sold in packs of various amounts starting at $40.
With larger brands often sold out of stock, online shops like Etsy are another option to consider, as are smaller independent brands posting their own handmade masks on social media.
Alternatively, making your own face mask at home is also an option. In addition to countless online tutorials, PHAC has also provided sewing and no-sewing instructions on how to make a face mask.