SURGICAL VS CLOTH MASKS: Why We Think You Should Switch to Cloth Masks

SURGICAL VS CLOTH MASKS: Why We Think You Should Switch to Cloth Masks

Whether you like it or not, face masks have become part of our "new normal." 

A few months ago, those who wore face masks in public begot cold-eyed stares from the people who were not familiar with its merits. Today, the simple covering marks a symbol of the trying times we live in, reminding us that we should support the public healthcare system and take care of ourselves and the people around us. 

As the demand for face masks goes up along with the countless viable options on the Internet, its widespread usage raises an obvious question between cloth and surgical masks: which offer the best protection?  

Mounting scientific research shows that face masks greatly reduce the acquisition and spread of COVID-19. So if you’re looking for a mask or planning to make your own, we rounded up three factors to let you weigh the pros and cons when selecting a mask.


Surgical: Regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, a surgical mask protects people from the wearer’s respiratory emissions, keeping healthcare workers mostly from large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily fluid or other types of fluid. But due to the continuing global demand for surgical masks, the World Health Organization urged citizens to refrain from using it as their primary protection and use cloth masks instead.

Cloth: Recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a cloth mask protects people, whether they asymptomatic or not, against airborne viral particles in public areas. A highly protective cloth mask slows the spread of the virus as it reduces the person-to-person transmission when people talk, cough, and sneeze. 

Although they are not medically-graded, cloth masks still protect non-patient settings such as public areas, closed facilities, and places where physical distancing may be difficult. Wearing one also reminds people to touch their faces less. 


Surgical: As a medical-grade protective gear, surgical masks conform to several standards in the United States (ASTM F2100-19) and Europe (EN 14683). These standards check mask performance in areas concerning fluid resistance, differential pressure, filter efficiency, and flammability. Made from non-woven fabric using the melt blowing process, surgical masks utilize a three-ply structure, with the middle layer filtering non-oily particles in the air.  

Cloth: As for cloth masks, no regulatory standards have been set yet. The fact that anybody can produce a cloth mask for home use or public consumption raises a question about its efficiency in filtering aerosols. However, according to Johns Hopkins University, a cloth mask, despite having a lot of designs, should have 2-3 layers to significantly reduce the droplet spread. A small pocket to insert a filter between the layers is also recommended to cut down the risk of inhaling potentially harmful fibers from these materials. 


Surgical: Medical-grade masks seem to be effective against splashes and large-particle droplets. But because of their loose-fitting design, these masks do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants. Aside from that, irresponsible disposal of such piles up on beaches and nature trails. Single-use surgical masks also lead to a massive trail of clinical waste in the environment.

Cloth: Since there are no standards for cloth masks, its filtration effectiveness is generally lower than that of its medical-grade counterpart. Despite this, a study carried by the CDC stated that cloth masks may provide some protection if well designed and used correctly. As for its sustainability, cloth masks are more eco-friendly. Due to its washable, reusable, and recyclable traits, cloth masks are the best choice for people with sensitive skin, skin allergies, and those who deeply care about the environment and ocean protection.


In terms of limitations, cloth masks fall short of some stringent standards that surgical masks undergo. However, the continuing demand for surgical masks poses a grave threat to its supply chain. And since the outbreak continues to expand globally, cloth masks, which reduces the spread of the virus while protecting the planet at the same time, seems like our best armament against the unseen viral foe lurking around the corner. 

To ease your worries, a recent study has shown that "multilayer cloth masks, designed to fit around the face and made of water-resistant fabric with a high number of threads and finer weave, may provide reasonable protection." 

Also, organic fabrics like cotton, silk, and chiffon improve the efficiency of cloth masks when used as multiple layers. "Cotton, the most widely used material for cloth masks, performs better at higher weave densities (i.e., thread count) and can make a significant difference in filtration efficiencies," a separate study showed. 

The American Academy of Dermatology Association also encourages everyone to avoid wearing masks made with synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester, and rayon since they are "more likely to irritate your skin and cause breakouts."

Instead, the AADA suggests using masks that have a snug, but comfortable fit; at least two layers of fabric; and soft, natural, and breathable fabric, such as cotton, on the inside layer. 

If you're finding it difficult to look for one, worry not as Cottonique fits those standards. 

Our collection of hypoallergenic face masks, made with GOTS-certified, chemical-free 100% organic cotton fabric, are the perfect choice for people with skin allergies and multiple chemical sensitivities. Visit our mask collection to find the right masks for your delicate skin.

From bad habits to proper fit and materials, there are several factors that can affect the efficiency of your mask. To know the common mistakes that people make when wearing masks and learn how to avoid them, read: 5 Common Mistakes People Make When Wearing Masks

DISCLAIMER: The information presented on Cottonique is not, and will never be, intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content materials found on this site, from text, treatments, outcomes, charts, graphics, photographs, and study findings, are created and published for general informational purposes only. It should not, in any way, be construed as a standard of care to be followed by a user of the website. 

Thus, readers are encouraged to verify any information obtained from this website with other accurate references and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with their physician. As Cottonique strives to help those with allergies live with better days, the hypoallergenic apparel brand encourages everyone to always seek the advice of their physician or other qualified health providers with any questions they may have regarding a medical condition.

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