[this article is not about PPE or other medical device]
With the easing of lockdowns in many countries across the globe, many governments are requesting their citizens to wear face masks in public areas and transports where social distancing is difficult to respect.
Whilst fabric face masks do not fall in the same category as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or other medical devices, they still remain crucial to limiting the spread of the virus by acting as a physical barrier to microscopic droplets (5 microns or less) dispersed whilst talking, sneezing or coughing.1
But what makes a quality and safe fabric face mask? What are the different controls to ensure a fabric face mask provides the right performances before, during and after it is produced?
Our textile experts share their knowledge and advice on this topic.
What Makes a Quality and Safe Fabric Mask?
1. Ensure proper design and fit of mask components
Size and Fit Construction
Development (style and design) and workmanship are key to ensure a proper fit of the fabric face mask. It needs to be flat on the skin on all sides, following the face contour and especially the areas around the nose bridge and under the chin.
Nose Clip Resistance & Flexibility
Usually made of aluminum or plastic, the nose clip should be resistant enough to allow a regular handling by the user without breakage. It should also be flexible enough to adapt the shape of the mask around the nose bridge to ensure a closer fit at all times.
Headband Comfort & Durability
The headband – made of elastic or cloth tie-straps – should be comfortable and of the right size for the user. It should be designed and attached to the fabric so that there is no need for the user to touch the front of the mask. The head band should have a suitable elasticity and elastic recovery, be well fixed to the mask edges, and be able to stand repeated tensions when the user pulls on or takes off the mask.
2. Choose the right materials for fabric layers
|Inner layer||In direct contact with the user’s mouth and nose (transpiration, breathing), the fabric should have a very high air permeability. If the user cannot breathe properly whilst wearing the mask, he/she might be tempted to touch it to adjust it, increasing the risk of contamination. Synthetic fibers dry quickly whilst plain weaves or mesh for example have a low thread count and are lightweight, and therefore more breathable.|
As no liquids should pass through, hydrophobic or water repellent fabrics such as woven or warp-knitted fabrics should be used.
Also if there is no filter between the inner and outer layer then the combination of these 2 layers must have at least a 75% efficiency rate in regards to protection against 5 micron droplets.
Harmful Chemical Substances
With more than 8,000 chemicals used by the textile industry worldwide, it might be possible that natural or man-made fabrics have been exposed to toxic ones, increasing the risk of allergic dermatitis or more severe effects to human health. Most of these harmful substances appear during the dyeing and processing stage of the fabric.
Fabric Defects Prevention
The presence of splits, tears and holes affect the efficiency of the mask as these defects might lead to potential exposure to contaminated droplets. The fabric that composes the mask should also be resistant to multiple wear, washing in hot water and drying.
Compliant Production Facilities
The factories producing masks should have the required clean and compliant environment, with operators trained, and working with proper protective equipment themselves in order to keep the produced masks virus free.
3. Provide clear instructions on the mask usage
Each mask should come with clear explanations for the user to understand how to wear it, how frequently should the components be replaced but also to know about its lifespan and limitations (e.g. not being a PPE or a medical device). It should also be easy for the user to disinfect all components of the mask whilst doing washing at home.
What Controls to Ensure a Quality and Safe Fabric Mask?
Make sure you are working with the right supplier for the production of your fabric face masks by having a technical audit conducted on-site. This will give you a complete overview of the health and safety conditions, equipment, and operators knowledge available at a supplier.
You may also want to ensure prevention and control measures for COVID-19 are aligned with local guidelines by having a COVID-19 precautionary audit which not only includes the evaluation of hygiene and safety rules in the factory, but also the control of working conditions.
Conducing an inspection will allow you to assess the following on finished and semi-finished pieces off production lines:
- Labeling and warning information
- Measurement, fitting (with actual wearing quality test)
- Children’s safety
- Needle detection
- Sample collection for lab testing purpose
Whilst a final inspection is the only inspection that allows you to check that the packaging requirements are followed, it often identifies issues too late. An inline inspection – usually conducted at 15 – 20% of the production run – will give enough time for improvements on both the running production and the finished goods.
Ensuring that the fabric is compliant with existing regulations such as REACH, LFGB, CPSIA or individual RSLs is mandatory to ensure the safety of users.The following hazardous substances should be looked for during lab testing: lead, phthalate, cadmium, heavy metal content, azo dyes and carcinogenic disperse dye content, formaldehyde
Any small parts of the mask should also be tested to avoid suffocation should they reach for the nose bridge for example.
These are some of the tests to carry to ensure the fabric face mask will offer durable performance over the period it can be worn: flammability, breathability, strength of nose clip and attachments, washing, colorfastness to perspiration.
In order to make sure that the right fabric is used for the mask to ensure its breathability, durability and water repellency, a fiber content analysis should be carried on.
How SgT Can Help
Whilst our range of solutions does not address PPE and other medical devices, our textile quality experts can offer support to brands selling fabric face masks by conducting the following services: