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Why my masks?

Okay, so I started out as skeptical as anyone about making and wearing cloth masks. My first impression was that they were more comforting psychologically than they were helpful medically. Which isn’t nothing, and if it helps people feel better during a stressful time, great! 

The more I read about it, and the more youtube videos I watched that talked about homemade masks, however, the more physical value they seemed to offer. When people around me started asking me to make them masks, and then suggesting I try to sell them more broadly, my next hesitation was “But look how glutted the market is!”

So then I looked at other masks that were being offered, and here are some of the issues I saw:

  1. Sure, they got websites out faster. But many of them have a long turn-around of a month or more between order and arrival. Some of that has to do with finding materials necessary to keep producing them. Most home sewers right now are relying pretty much strictly on their personal stashes. The website where I usually bulk-buy thread is COMPLETELY SOLD OUT of black, white, and off white thread. Patterned cottons everywhere have been sold out, slow-arriving, and high priced. One source of elastic I ordered took over a month to arrive. When I researched ideal mask fabric that was antimicrobial and moisture-wicking, I made an order in mid-April, and *STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN IT*.

Imagine if I had started trying to market masks made from that material right away???!! Part of my process in setting up this website was sourcing. At the start of my personal logistics, Joann Fabrics was even one week or more out. Then when I discovered that my printing method can only work on polyester, I wanted to find a quickly-renewable source at a reasonable price. Then I wanted to test the order times of the other elements, like the ear-adjusters, nose-wire, and different kinds of elastic, so that I could have plenty on hand to meet a lot of orders, and already have more on the way.

  1. Another issue I saw with many of the mask sites that popped up immediately is that they aren’t all selling functional masks. Some of these companies already had the infrastructure to jump into production making great masks, so I’m not talking about those. I’m not saying this about all the masks out there, but there are a number of websites that are selling things that look like little more than a piece of fabric with ties on it. Some of them come with insertable filters (some of them don’t??!). Some of them are being marketed as a “mask cover.” This is kind of like when I worked at a grocery store and learned what “cheese food” meant. It’s not cheese, and it’s not a mask.

Mask covers are meant to go OVER an actual mask, to look pretty. But if you already have a mask—which no one wants to wear—and I’m assuming it’s a medical mask, or else it already has a fun front, why would you want to put a piece of fabric over a 100% functional mask? Two steps of work, and less breathable for minimal/no gain. And if you don’t have a mask to wear under it, it’s NOT A MASK.

Look, folks, I have a reusable mask I purchased years ago to wear when I’m sewing a dusty fabric (burlap is a NIGHTMARE), and I have never altered the filter, even though it came with extra(s?). Realistically, I’m absolutely not ever going to add an extra filter to any of my masks. And *I’ve* done enough research on it to know its value! Imagine normal people who haven’t spent days turning mask research into a Special Interest.

The masks I designed have a non-woven layer that functions as a non-removable, decent filter, and they have a pocket to place additional layers in if you so choose. (One of my test-users, a doctor, mentioned this as one of his favorite things about it.) I’ll never use it personally, but it’s there, and it’s easily accessible. For anyone like me, who wants ONE STEP when I have to wear a mask, these masks provide that.

A few things about medical-grade masks: A true, medical-grade mask is 100% waterproof. The highest level of protection, N95, is fit-tested and presses against the face tightly enough that if someone sprays perfume at you, you will not smell it. (Think about it, if you can smell perfume, smell-particles are making it through the mask.) This is more coverage than is necessary in most environments outside of a hospital, especially combined with social distancing. PLEASE RESERVE THESE FOR HOSPITAL WORKERS, AND IF YOU HAVE SOME, PLEASE DONATE THEM TO A HOSPITAL.

The popular white or blue rectangle masks you’re seeing everywhere--and putting on upside down and backward--are supposed to be waterproof (some of them aren’t, but can be indistinguishable to a layperson; these can have various levels of benefit, depending on the quality). Smell-particles, and thus viruses and bacteria, can get through the sides, because it is not airtight around the edges. This is fine for most circumstances, even many in the medical field. 

The white or blue masks are great for wearing around, but right now they aren’t readily available, and should generally be reserved for hospitals. Plus, they’re disposable, and while even the CDC has ruled that they can be reused a few times, they will fall apart. Which means their limited availability will be a continued issue and expense.

(HERE IS HOW TO CLEAN UNWASHABLE MASKS: boil some water, and hold each side in the steam for ~30 seconds. Alternatively, the Coronavirus is believed to stay active for a limited amount of time on fabric surfaces. The specific time seems questionable, so I err on the side of caution and give it several days. Leaving used masks in the sun for an extended period is also helpful. Since I only leave my house about once/week, I leave my mask in the car where it can get some sun and not be touched for a while.)

A youtube video I watched that really brought point #2 home for me was a man spraying a bottle of water directly at several masks purchased from the internet, as compared to medical masks. Most of them, the water spray went right through it as if it wasn’t there. Grrilla Wardrobe masks can handle several sprays before it feels wet on the other side. It’s not waterPROOF, but it is water resistant—which is enough protection, and is more breathable. Not being breathable means you’re less likely to wear it, and that's even less effective than a single layer of filter-less fabric.

  1. Cross-contamination.

Man, is this a hard part to keep in mind. I live in a large apartment complex; every time I go downstairs to check my mail, I notice each touch of the elevator buttons, of the mail box door, of the mail, of the gate handles, and then my keys when I get back home. Whenever possible, I try to use the same finger/hand for anything public that I have to touch.

On longer trips out, and with more going on, this becomes impossible. Both of your hands are going to come into contact with things touched by unknown people every time you go to a grocery store.

Now there is a possibility of having the virus on your hand. Which can then contaminate the next thing you touch. This is actually considered the number one way that laypersons are getting infected, even when quarantining perfectly in every other way.

At first, I was so hyper-aware of everything I touched, I could feel my hand tingling with *possible danger!* until I was able to get to a sink. The more time that passes, it’s exhausting to maintain that level of fixation. The more time spent in public places, and the more people that are there, the higher possibility that both your hands, and the outside of your mask can have particles on them.

If a mask isn’t 100% virus-proof, and there are virus particles on its surface, touching your face through the mask can allow them through. If you pull your mask down to your neck, then back up after being in a contaminated area, virus particles that were on your neck are now on the inside of your mask.

I’ve seen face covers that look like neck scarves, but can be pulled up as masks. This is cute, and seems convenient, but if you’re pulling it down and back up, the side that is supposed to cover your face can become contaminated. 

Masks that are tubes or secure in the back without a way to remove them by any other means than pulling them off over your head means that every time they are taken off and then put back on, the inside of the mask has been dragged over the rest of your head.

When I run errands, I like to take my mask off immediately on arrival to my car. If I go to more than one place, that means taking it off, putting it back on, taking it off again, putting it on, taking it off. Each time, anything that touched the inside of the mask on its way; off is now a possible contaminant.

The correct way to remove a mask is to touch only the ties, and not the front of the mask. Between stores, I take my mask off by the elastic and set it down like a cup that has something sticky inside it, and I don’t want to get anything stuck to it.

The reason that experts started out questioning the value of laypersons wearing masks is that most people don’t know how to wear them correctly, and not everyone is researching it. If you smear a contaminated mask across your face, you’ve just wasted 100% of the discomfort you’ve spent wearing a mask all day.

  1. Comfortable fit

I’ve tested these masks on several people of various sizes. At first, I was all, “This mask has elastic on the sides and at the bottom! It should be a pretty good one-size-fits-most kind of thing, right?”

  • The first test, I lowered the top of the mask around the eyes; I found that if I didn’t, it irritated my eyes more, and made me want to rub them.
  • My roommate is a large man who often works with basketball players. The one-size-fits-some turned out to barely cover his nose and mouth if he didn’t talk much, and he had to pull the elastic as far as it would go to squeeze it onto his ears. Okay, I need a large.
  • Then a mom-friend asked for masks for her and hubby and kid. Oh crap! Kids! I forgot those are a different size!
  • Then test-subject #1 said her ear elastic was sitting too loose. Then test family #1 said their ear elastic was too tight. (“That’s okay, it’ll make me want to leave the grocery store even faster!”)

With a lot of feedback and trials, I’ve come up with solutions to all the fitting issues.

The ear elastic is adjustable, there are two sizes for adults and two sizes for kids. The inside layer on every mask is 100% cotton for minimal irritation.

And here’s something that several people have mentioned without being asked: the mask sits out from your face so that it isn’t directly touching the front of your nose and mouth.

Most masks currently available sit closely to your face, and in some pictures, I can even make out the shape of the lips through them. Being pressed against your face this tightly seems like part of what makes masks so claustrophobic to wear. It also means contaminants on the outside of the fabric are on the other side of something brushing against your skin, and even a fairly light touch could help to push them through.

My masks don’t touch you so closely, which aside from being more comfortable, also have more space between you and the contaminated side. With the nose-wire and the chin elastic, they fit as closely as possible for a homemade mask, with minimal claustrophobia and maximum breathability.

If you have a chance, doing some research of your own, and watching youtube videos about proper mask-wearing and about cross-contamination can help you be more aware of what masks can do for you. In the meantime, I wanted to summarize my own research and observations so that you can make a more informed decision about how, when, and which mask to wear. Ultimately, the BEST mask to wear is the one that you WILL wear, and I hope that the thought that was put into a Grrilla Wardrobe mask can break down some of the common reluctance.