Researchers determine the most effective DIY mask materials

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KTRK) -- From their lab at Texas A&M, Dr. Sarah Brooks and her team are testing anything they can get their hands on to find out what DIY mask materials actually work.

"We tried bras. We tried shower curtains. We tried coffee filters," Brooks said. "A lot of people are interested in coffee filters, unfortunately they also allow a lot of passage of particles."

Brooks says N95 masks stop at least 95 percent of nano-meter particles like the small particles of the coronavirus.

She and her students test the N95 material and then test DIY materials to see where it scores compared to the medical grade masks. Their goal has been to use material that we all could easily find in our homes that would block 90 percent or higher of the particles.

"The things that we found that we think are pretty practical for many people are the vacuum bags or those HVAC or those AC filters," Brooks said.

The following materials performed well in their testing, scoring particle removal effectiveness on a scale of 0-100:
  • N95 material- 100
  • AC or HVAC filters- 100
  • Vacuum bags- 94


So how would you wear a vacuum bag or AC filter as a mask? Brooks says to cut a piece out that would fit over your mouth and nose and place it directly in your current homemade mask.

"As you can see, it's just cloth, so what I have installed in my mask is just a small piece of vacuum bag," Brooks said.

Brooks says after each use, simply slide the vacuum bag filter or AC filter out of the mask then throw that away and put your cloth mask into the laundry to wash.

These are the materials that scored poorly in their test:
  • Bandannas- 28
  • Coffee filters- 25
  • Bra cups- 83
  • Surgical masks- 72


"I really thought that, that would be a better performer and it was even beaten by a bra in fact, so that is a surprise," Brooks said.

She says the numbers show wearing something is better than nothing at all. Having a face covering of almost any kind will stop cough droplets that you could share if you do have COVID-19. If you have a bandanna or cloth mask you can alter it to be more effective.

Brooks says the next step for the team is to test the effectiveness of the materials as it gets hotter outside and as the air pollution changes.

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