Are Paper Towel Masks Effective at Blocking Viruses?

Paper towel test at capturing virus-sized particles

In a recent study, researchers tested household materials that could be used to make DIY masks, but they left out one common material—paper towel masks (also called “kitchen paper”). Could paper towel be an effective material for making homemade masks in times of crisis and shortages? Smart Air Engineer Paddy tested its effectiveness in the Beijing lab.

 

DIY mask test of paper towel effectiveness

 

Putting Paper Towel Masks to The Test

 

Paddy used a Met One GT-521S particle counter to test how well a single and double layer of paper towel filtered out particles down to 0.3 microns. Paddy ran the Met One for one minute, measuring the total number of particles passing through the kitchen paper versus the same setup with no filter.

 

Paper towel test at capturing virus-sized particles

 

How Big Are Viruses?

 

Just how small is 0.3 microns compared to viruses? On average, coronavirus particles measure approximately 0.1 microns in diameter, so 3 times smaller than measured in our test. However, 0.3 microns is an important size to test, because 0.3 micron particles are the most difficult to capture.

 

Particle Sizes - Virus Labelled

The crazy reality is that particles smaller than 0.3 microns are actually easier to capture. Don’t believe us; believe the data. Here’s the science behind it »

Paper Towel Particle Capture

 

The results weren’t great. A single layer of kitchen paper captured just 23% particles. Adding an extra layer only increased particle capture to 33%.

 

Paper Towel Mask Particle Capture Effectiveness Microns

 

For larger 2.5 micron particles, paper towel performed better. The single layer of kitchen paper captured 52% of these larger particles.

 

Do Paper Towel Masks Fit Tight?

 

One thing this test doesn’t cover is fit effectiveness–how leaky a DIY mask would be. Not surprisingly, masks that fit better will let fewer particles in. That’s one of the reasons why surgical masks score lower on fit tests than N95 masks.

 

UMass Surgical Mask Study Virus EN

Yet Studies Find Mask Leakage Has Small Effect on Flu Virus Transmission

 

Although surgical masks (and presumably DIY masks) are more leaky than N95 masks, randomized studies that have tracked infection rates have found that surgical masks are just as effective as N95 masks at preventing the transmission of viruses.

 

N95 vs surgical mask flu infection study

 

Researchers don’t know the exact reason for this. However, some scientists hypothesize that masks help, in part, because they prevent us from touching our face. That helps keeps us from “planting” viruses our mouth, nose, and eyes.

 

reduction in hand to face contact effect mask preventing virus transmission

Bottom line: Paper towel masks captured 23% of 0.3 micron particles, which is less than other DIY mask materials tested by researchers at Cambridge. However, if it is the only material you have, it is better than nothing.

 


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Kevin Crag

Paper Towel even does not have the capacity to filter PM particles. Today World is goring through major Epidemic COVID-19. Proper N-95 is standard which fulfills all guidelines to protect virus infection….

Jennifer Shipley

Hey. The problem with surgical and other masks as far as protecting the wearer is that there are air leaks at the chin around the nose and near the ears where air comes in and doesn’t get filtered. A better fit will reduce that.

Berna

What about using grocery cloth from reusable bags made of polypropylene? Or what about the filtering quality of weed mats inside a cloth mask?

jerilee labarr

my 84 year old neighbor told me she lived in Italy during a large flu outbreak and they made masks from kitchen parchment paper. would this be a good filter?

Lissa

What about the effectiveness of 100% cotton woven cloth… quilter’s cotton?
Use of coffee filters as a filter slipped into a mask?

Liz - Smart Air

Hi Lissa, Liz here. We haven’t tested that yet. We know there’s a huge demand for reliable, science-backed data right now, so we’ve created a campaign to gather information on what our readers wants to test. To vote on what test you expect to see and support our campaign, visit our Fundly.com page here: https://fundly.com/best-diy-mask-materials