Why Bandanas Aren’t As Effective As Masks Against COVID-19

By mandates and medical expert advice, people worldwide are covering their faces to help prevent coronavirus from spreading.

They include the homemade, the medical-grade, and the bandana. 

As researchers learn more about COVID-19 and how it spreads, they’re forming hypotheses on how effective our efforts have been. Chief among those: Which masks work best? People everywhere, from essential workers to students, should know the facts.

In this post, we’ll examine differences between how well bandanas protect against coronavirus transmission compared to masks. Also, best practices for wearing a mask; tips and reminders for good COVID-19 practices; and a list of resources you can use to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in mask suggestions.


Why is it important to wear a mask?

The Center for Disease Control recommends wearing masks in public settings. This is to help prevent spreading the coronavirus, by limiting exposure to respiratory droplets that could contain the virus. The CDC also suggests wearing a mask when you’re with people who don’t live with you, as well as staying 6 feet apart. Health officials believe the best course for curbing a COVID-19 spread is to adhere to these precautions.

A study from the University of Washington predicts that if 95% of the U.S. population wore masks, the nation could prevent nearly 670,000 deaths by COVID-19.

Wearing a mask while in public is to protect the wearer and anyone the come in contact with. It also demonstrates an understanding of the importance of wearing one.



The history of wearing masks to prevent coronavirus spread

In July, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an editorial supporting the effectiveness of masks during the pandemic. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said citizens aren’t defenseless against the virus. “All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities,” he said. The editorial cited two studies: JAMA’s, and one from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report. It gave the example of 2 Missouri hairstylists who cut hair for dozens of clients while infected, but because they and their customers wore masks, none of the 139 became ill or showed signs of infection.



The pros and cons of bandanas vs. masks:

  1. Bandanas

    • Pros:

      • Better than no covering
      • Eco friendly
      • Reusable
      • Washable

    • Cons:

      • Lower filtration effectiveness
      • Two cloth barriers aren’t as effective as medical mask nonwoven fiber construction
      • Low thread count allows more particles in and out
      • Doesn’t seal on the face as well; difficult to get a good fit

  2. Medical masks

    • Pros:

      • Can prevent spread AND acquisition of the virus
      • Higher filtration effectiveness
      • Seals around the face to prevent gaps in coverage
      • The metal piece keeps mask sealed to the bridge of the nose

    • Cons:

      • Not reusable
      • Not washable



Examples of how to wear a medical mask

  • Watch this video the World Health Organization has released.
  • Watch this video from Doctor Eye Health for tips to wear a mask with glasses.

Tips and reminders for wearing a medical mask

Medical masks contain nonwoven fibers, which prevent particles from easily passing through. This helps prevent an infected person from spreading coronavirus and also protects others from contracting it through respiratory droplets. 

Medical masks are lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to dispose of. Here are tips on how to best wear a medical mask to prevent COVID-19 from spreading:

  • Don’t bother with makeup under your mask - no one sees it anyway, and it could irritate your skin
  • Wear a mask whenever you leave home
  • Check the mask for tears or holes before putting it on
  • Cover your mouth and nose at all times, and secure the mask under your chin
  • Adjust mask to fit snugly on cheeks and nose
  • Pleats should face downward
  • Maintain social distancing standards even if you’re covered
  • Wash your hands before putting on a mask, and immediately after taking one off
  • Do not wear the mask over your head or down on your neck
  • Do not touch your mask while wearing it, except to adjust when you first put it on, and by the ear loops when removing it
  • Replace the mask if it gets dirty or wet
  • Dispose of masks after one use in a closed bin



Analysis of medical masks vs. bandanas

Features of medical masks, also called surgical masks, make them a superior choice than a bandana. Medical masks have nonwoven fiber in them, which makes it difficult for particles to slip all the way through the barrier.

A double-layer of cotton cloth, as a bandana offers, is better than no cover at all, but it still is more permeable than nonwoven fiber. A cotton weave is uniform, so the path through a barrier is less complex. Medical masks stay on more securely because they’re fastened with ear loops. A bandana is tied behind one’s head, which could become loose and slip down.

In research published in Nature Medicine in April 2020 found that surgical masks reduced the transmission of many human coronaviruses. Although the virus causing the pandemic - SARS-CoV-2 - wasn’t included, viruses share similar properties of behavior and traits.

Surgical masks have shown effectiveness three times as effective in blocking virus-containing aerosols over cloth masks. Studies also show that infections droplets travel about 5 feet when a loose mask is worn, as opposed to as many as 16 feet when no mask was worn.

Lastly, a study conducted at Duke University tested what percentage of droplets were caught by surgical masks vs. bandanas, using human subjects speaking with various masks on, and a laser beam to count droplets. The surgical masks stopped 90% of droplets, as compared to bananas, which stopped 50%.


CDC report in JAMA

Duke University Health

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

The Lancet review of masks



Buy your American-made surgical masks today

United Sewing Automation manufactures masks in the U.S., from a plant in Mount Airy, N.C. You can save money by buying them in bulk, and USA offers free shipping for orders of $30 or more. Check out USA’s line of surgical masks and protect yourself, today.







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