Quantitative Method for Comparative Assessment of Particle Removal Efficiency of Fabric Masks as Alternatives to Standard Surgical Masks for PPE

Matter. 2020 Sep 2;3(3):950-962. doi: 10.1016/j.matt.2020.07.006. Epub 2020 Jul 9.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cloth masks are being used to control the spread of virus, but the efficacy of these loose-fitting masks is not well known. Here, tools and methods typically used to assess tight-fitting respirators were modified to quantify the efficacy of community-produced and commercially produced fabric masks as personal protective equipment. Two particle counters concurrently sample ambient air and air inside the masks; mask performance is evaluated by mean particle removal efficiency and statistical variability when worn as designed and with a nylon overlayer, to independently assess fit and material. Worn as designed, both commercial surgical masks and cloth masks had widely varying effectiveness (53%-75% and 28%-91% particle removal efficiency, respectively). Most surgical-style masks improved with the nylon overlayer, indicating poor fit. This rapid testing method uses widely available hardware, requires only a few calculations from collected data, and provides both a holistic and aspect-wise evaluation of mask performance.

Keywords: COVID-19; Fit Factor; PPE; SARS-CoV-2; aerosols; cloth masks; face masks.