What Qualities Make For a Good Face Mask?

Wilsonville dermatology clinic

As more businesses begin to open around Oregon and across the U.S., at some point we will all need to start leaving the safety of our homes to venture out into public. For many of us, regular trips to the grocery store and doctor’s office have already become part of a return to normal, but later, as social distancing measures begin to slacken, returning to the office, salon, and our Wilsonville dermatology clinic may become an option. However, even as the number of daily activities we can engage in increase, there’s no escaping the fact that a new normal will be different than before. Transactions will take place through plastic barriers, seating will be spaced farther apart, and you’ll likely need to wear some type of face mask.

Many places have already instituted a face mask policy, and it makes perfect sense. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has stated that anywhere between 25 to 50 percent of people can have and spread the virus while not showing any symptoms. We already know that COVID-19 is easily spread by respiratory droplets that form naturally simply by laughing, speaking, coughing, or sneezing.

While wearing a cloth face mask doesn’t offer absolute protection, it’s better than having no level of protection when out in public. When combined with social distancing and handwashing, wearing a mask when out in public can help to keep you healthy. Unfortunately, there are not enough medical grade masks to go around right now, and those that do exist should be saved for health care workers directly dealing with the pandemic.

This has created a need for cloth face masks, but not every mask you can buy online or on Etsy provides the type of protection needed to actually get you and other safe from the virus. Since all of us are new to this, it’s hard to know exactly what qualities we need to prioritize when selecting a face mask.

Here is what health experts say are the qualities of a good cloth face mask:

Sewn or Not Sewn: When used correctly, both sewn or non-sewn masks can provide the protection you need. Deciding the type of mask to wear really depends on you. If in a hurry, a non-sewn mask is perfectly fine. Feeling a little crafty, make your mask at home. If deciding to make your own mask, make sure to follow the right directions. Many local hospitals are posting patterns with precise instructions on how to make masks.

Fabric: The highest quality face masks use at least two layers of tightly woven cotton fabric. Look for fabric that has a high thread count. A high thread count acts like filter that keeps you from inhaling respiratory droplets while still allowing you to breathe comfortably.

Filter: Some types of face masks will feature a space to slip in a filter to add an extra level of protection. For homemade masks the CDC recommends adding coffee filter. When deciding on whether to use a filter, a little common sense goes a long way. Start by asking whether the filter is worth adding when you consider usability and safety. The filter needs to be dense enough to block small particles, while also being breathable and comfortable. Never use any inorganic materials as part of your face mask. Air filters can continue fiberglass, which would be very dangerous to inhale.

Fit: You need to be able to breathe comfortably in your mask so you don’t need to remove it while out in public. The face mask needs to have a snug fit from under the nose to the chin and back towards the ear. If gaps exist, then the facemask will do nothing to product you from inhaling tiny respiratory particles. If you don’t feel like you can breathe comfortable in your mask, don’t use it and consult with your doctor about other face covering options.

Durability: You will need to wash your face mask after every trip out of the home. If buying your mask online, make sure to look at reviews that comment on the masks wear and tear. If you add a filter to your homemade mask, cleaning will depend on the type of filter you choose to use. A coffee filter should be thrown away after each use. Additionally, you should prewash the fabric so that it doesn’t shrink.


Wearing a cloth mask out into public show that you care about not only your own health, but the health of others. It demonstrates to others how they should also be respectful regarding physical distancing measures and stay at least 6 feet away from you. By working together, we can all try to adjust to the virus in ways the benefit us all until life returns somewhat back to normal at our Wilsonville dermatology clinic and other Oregon businesses.