The CDC recommends double-masking—here’s what you need to know
Double-masking offers multiple benefits.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been recommending people wear face masks since early April. Because of the shortage of N95 masks, cloth face masks have become the norm, with many options available from homemade ones on Etsy to masks from large retailers, including our favorite the Athleta Non Medical Mask.
As of Wednesday, the CDC officially recommends double-masking—wearing a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask or using a cloth mask that has multiple layers of material. This comes after a recent study found that coronavirus transmission can be reduced by over 95% by doing so.
I’ve been evaluating many of these cloth options since they first hit the market. Before joining Reviewed, I spent most of my career in apparel and textiles. Most recently I was at Nike, where I evaluated the quality of materials and determined if they were fit for use for apparel products. I’m definitely a materials nerd. I’ve rigorously tested and worn dozens of masks, and evaluated them for quality, comfort, and fit to find the best ones. And the need for cloth face masks has not gone away.
With the new COVID-19 variants appearing around the world and less knowledge about the new strains, wearing face masks is more important than ever to help slow the spread. Several people were seen wearing two masks at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, which raised more questions about whether or not doubling-masking makes sense.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to find a quality mask and why two masks are better than one.
How do I find a quality cloth mask?
Whether you wear one face mask or more, it should be a quality face mask. I’ve previously written about what to look for in a quality mask and some of the most important things to look for are multiple layers, tightly woven fabric, and a snug fit to the face. We love Athleta’s Everyday Non Medical Mask, which won an Editor’s Choice award for Best Overall. This mask strikes a nice balance between protection and breathability. It has triple-layered woven fabric, a bendable nose piece, and adjustable ear loops which help with a snug fit to the face.
Are two masks better than one?
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wearing two masks is common sense. Fauci told NBC News’ TODAY “If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective.”
Studies have found that multiple layers of fabric in a mask increase filtration effectiveness from virus particles. Following that logic, By double-masking, a person is increasing the number of layers of fabric protecting their face, thereby upping the level of filtration.
From my years of working with fabrics, this concept makes sense. Woven fabric is essentially a mesh grid made of threads. The more these grids layer on top of each other, the more likely holes are covered, which then creates more areas for respiratory particles to get blocked or trapped before they make it to your face.
Another advantage of donning two masks is that it helps with a snug fit. A peer-reviewed study in materials science journal Matter found that adding a “nylon overlay” to many masks minimized gaps, allowing for better filtration. Study author Dr. Loretta Fernandez, an associate professor at Northeastern University, told USA Today, “the second mask not only added an extra layer of protection but also made the mask fit snugger around the face.”
Should I wear two masks?
The CDC has not issued official guidance on double-masking, however, the evidence suggests two masks are likely more effective than a single mask. In situations where you are not able to social distance, you may want to double up by wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask or two cloth masks.
In the early days of the pandemic, medical workers were double-masking to try to extend the life of scarce N95 masks, which continue to be in short supply.
One drawback of wearing two masks is that the multiple layers of material could make it harder to breathe. If you already have trouble breathing while wearing one mask, adding another may not be the best option. The CDC notes wearing one mask is better than not wearing any face covering.