Evaluation of Cloth Masks and Modified Procedure Masks as Personal Protective Equipment for the Public During the COVID-19 Pandemic

JAMA Intern Med. 2021 Apr 1;181(4):463-469. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.8168.


Importance: During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the general public has been advised to wear masks or improvised face coverings to limit transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). However, there has been considerable confusion and disagreement regarding the degree to which masks protect the wearer from airborne particles.

Objectives: To evaluate the fitted filtration efficiency (FFE) of various consumer-grade and improvised face masks, as well as several popular modifications of medical procedure masks that are intended to improve mask fit or comfort.

Design, setting, and participants: For this study conducted in a research laboratory between June and August 2020, 7 consumer-grade masks and 5 medical procedure mask modifications were fitted on an adult male volunteer, and FFE measurements were collected during a series of repeated movements of the torso, head, and facial muscles as outlined by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration Quantitative Fit Testing Protocol. The consumer-grade masks tested included (1) a 2-layer nylon mask with ear loops that was tested with an optional aluminum nose bridge and filter insert in place, (2) a cotton bandana folded diagonally once (ie, "bandit" style) or in a (3) multilayer rectangle according to the instructions presented by the US Surgeon General, (4) a single-layer polyester/nylon mask with ties, (5) a polypropylene mask with fixed ear loops, (6) a single-layer polyester gaiter/neck cover balaclava bandana, and (7) a 3-layer cotton mask with ear loops. Medical procedure mask modifications included (1) tying the mask's ear loops and tucking in the side pleats, (2) fastening ear loops behind the head with 3-dimensional-printed ear guards, (3) fastening ear loops behind the head with a claw-type hair clip, (4) enhancing the mask/face seal with rubber bands over the mask, and (5) enhancing the mask/face seal with a band of nylon hosiery over the fitted mask.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary study outcome was the measured FFE of common consumer-grade and improvised face masks, as well as several popular modifications of medical procedure masks.

Results: The mean (SD) FFE of consumer grade masks tested on 1 adult male with no beard ranged from 79.0% (4.3%) to 26.5% (10.5%), with the 2-layer nylon mask having the highest FFE. Unmodified medical procedure masks with ear loops had a mean (SD) FFE of 38.5% (11.2%). All modifications evaluated in this study increased procedure mask FFE (range [SD], 60.3% [11.1%] to 80.2% [3.1%]), with a nylon hosiery sleeve placed over the procedure mask producing the greatest improvement.

Conclusions and relevance: While modifications to improve medical procedure mask fit can enhance the filtering capability and reduce inhalation of airborne particles, this study demonstrates that the FFEs of consumer-grade masks available to the public are, in many cases, nearly equivalent to or better than their non-N95 respirator medical mask counterparts.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / transmission*
  • Cotton Fiber
  • Equipment Design
  • Filtration / instrumentation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masks*
  • Nylons
  • Polyesters
  • Polypropylenes
  • Protective Clothing


  • Nylons
  • Polyesters
  • Polypropylenes