India TAC Special

Can handmade masks be a better shield?

According to WHO guidelines for fighting COVID-19, face masks are to be mandatorily worn while going out. Initially, there was a scarcity of surgical masks and government-recommended N-95 masks as the lockdown was implemented. This led to a surge of self-sufficiency, with millions of people shifting to handmade masks made with the easily available cloth. Since then, local craft companies, designers, and even big businesses have tapped into the industry producing intricately decorated cotton masks that can be customised by the wearer.
|| Pratyasha Sharma

Studies on the topic suggest that wearing a cloth mask is beneficial in comparison to no face covering, and is equally important as maintaining social distance and hand-washing or sanitising. The idea behind this is to protect the wearer and people nearby from air-borne droplets of infection entering the respiratory system. Transmission reports show that the virus can be found in air droplets up to three hours after an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Keeping that in mind, the Ministry of Health Affairs has approved handmade cloth masks as a good way to prevent the spread of the virus. However, certain guidelines have to be followed while making these masks.

  • The most important part of a face mask is the 3-ply arrangement of cloth. The recommended design is to have two layers of woven cotton sewn together with the third layer of a thicker material. Some officials suggest adding a pocket for a HEPA filter, but it is not compulsory to do so. Updated WHO guidelines require the outer layer to consist of water-resistant fabric, the middle layer to act as a filter and the innermost layer to have a water-absorbent fabric.
  • The cloth portion of the mask is supposed to cover the mouth and nose completely, without gaps.
  • Suggestions for washing the handmade cloth masks are- Washed with plain water and soap, or boiled in hot water and left to dry in the sun. An alternative to sun-drying is gently ironing the mask.

Handmade masks not only help avert community spread but are also lighter in the pocket. These masks are convenient to make, with options of no-sew designs being promoted by creative websites. Most surgical masks available in the market are only one-time use: the disposal of such masks is quite difficult as well. Scraps of cotton can be found around the house, old t-shirts, knit cotton clothes that can also be recycled to create masks. Cloth masks can be washed regularly, making them reusable. Without the need for specific disposal systems such as incineration, these masks are much better for the environment. COVID-19 is here for a long time until a definite cure or vaccine can be found- wearing homemade masks can make dealing with it a sustainable process, in comparison to the commercial alternatives.

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