Special Issue on COVID-19 Aerosol Drivers, Impacts and Mitigation (XVI)

Jessica A. Mirrielees1, Bo Chen1, Michael R. Moreno2, Sarah D. Brooks This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.1 

1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA
2 Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77840, USA

Received: November 17, 2020
Revised: March 17, 2021
Accepted: April 20, 2021

 Copyright The Author(s). This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are cited.

Download Citation: ||https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.200633  

Cite this article:

Mirrielees, J.A., Chen, B., Moreno, M.R., Brooks, S.D. (2021). What to Wear: The Filtration Performance of Alternative Materials Used to Construct Do-It-Yourself Masks. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 21, 200633. https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.200633


  • Particle penetration through mask materials was assessed at three face velocities.
  • The best material for the construction of face masks was an allergen filter.
  • Though in widespread use, standard 3-ply surgical masks performed poorly.
  • Pressure drop tests indicated adequate breathability for light physical work.


The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that much of the world, including the United States, is ill-prepared for the material demands of a global crisis. In response to this shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we have conducted filtration efficiency and pressure drop testing of a range of common materials used for constructing do-it-yourself masks, including an allergen filter, a vacuum bag, a heavy-duty tool wipe, and a standard cotton bandana, as well as a standard 3-ply surgical mask, a medical drape and an industrially available composite filter material. Size-resolved percent penetration of each material by particles with diameters ranging from 25 to 500 nm was measured at three face velocities (0.72 cm s-1, 4.30 cm s-1, 13.0 cm s-1). The allergen filter performed best, only allowing the penetration of 5% ± 3% of the 300 nm particles through the material at a face velocity of 13.0 cm s-1, comparable to human breathing during heavy physical work. In comparison, the surgical mask and the cotton bandana allowed 39 ± 1% and 51% ± 1% of the 300 nm particles to pass through at the same face velocity, respectively. According to the calculated filter quality, the best choices for mask construction are the allergen filter, industrial composite filter, and the vacuum bag. Structure and morphology of the materials were characterized by scanning electron microscopy (SEM), image analysis, and thickness measurements to investigate physical characteristics which improve filtration. This study shows that certain household and commercially available materials and combinations can be used in the construction of highly effective face masks.

Keywords: Cloth mask, Filter quality, COVID-19, Airborne transmission

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