Simple respiratory protection--evaluation of the filtration performance of cloth masks and common fabric materials against 20-1000 nm size particles

Ann Occup Hyg. 2010 Oct;54(7):789-98. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/meq044. Epub 2010 Jun 28.


A shortage of disposable filtering facepiece respirators can be expected during a pandemic respiratory infection such as influenza A. Some individuals may want to use common fabric materials for respiratory protection because of shortage or affordability reasons. To address the filtration performance of common fabric materials against nano-size particles including viruses, five major categories of fabric materials including sweatshirts, T-shirts, towels, scarves, and cloth masks were tested for polydisperse and monodisperse aerosols (20-1000 nm) at two different face velocities (5.5 and 16.5 cm s⁻¹) and compared with the penetration levels for N95 respirator filter media. The results showed that cloth masks and other fabric materials tested in the study had 40-90% instantaneous penetration levels against polydisperse NaCl aerosols employed in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health particulate respirator test protocol at 5.5 cm s⁻¹. Similarly, varying levels of penetrations (9-98%) were obtained for different size monodisperse NaCl aerosol particles in the 20-1000 nm range. The penetration levels of these fabric materials against both polydisperse and monodisperse aerosols were much higher than the penetrations for the control N95 respirator filter media. At 16.5 cm s⁻¹ face velocity, monodisperse aerosol penetrations slightly increased, while polydisperse aerosol penetrations showed no significant effect except one fabric mask with an increase. Results obtained in the study show that common fabric materials may provide marginal protection against nanoparticles including those in the size ranges of virus-containing particles in exhaled breath.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / analysis
  • Clothing / standards
  • Clothing / statistics & numerical data
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Disposable Equipment / standards
  • Equipment Design
  • Filtration / instrumentation*
  • Filtration / standards
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control*
  • Inhalation Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Inhalation Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Masks / standards*
  • Masks / statistics & numerical data
  • Materials Testing / methods*
  • Nanoparticles / analysis
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S.
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Sodium Chloride / analysis
  • Textiles / statistics & numerical data
  • United States


  • Aerosols
  • Particulate Matter
  • Sodium Chloride