Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask

Since washable, reusable, home-made, fabric droplet masks are a new innovation, it is important that we have some guidelines on how to safely handle these masks. How should you put it on, how should you take it off, how often should you wash it, how should you wash it, and so on.

We’ve reached the point where all of us will soon be wearing  masks, often home-made fabric masks that I call “droplet masks”. A droplet mask is not a surgical mask, nor  a N95, FFP2 or KN95 mask. We, the public, now understand that we can help flatten the curve by wearing a droplet mask and being productive instead of sitting at home and watching movies the whole day. We can manufacture our own droplet masks and can help those around us by supplying masks. If you cannot get hold of a droplet mask, any fabric, such as a buff or scarf, can be wrapped around your nose and mouth, and it will surely help, maybe even better than a droplet mask. The author recommends  that you do not to use surgical masks in communities where there may be a shortage of masks for healthcare professionals. If you have PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) masks and you are not at a huge risk of getting severely ill when contracting the virus, consider donating the masks to a clinic or hospital near you.  They may be in desperate need of masks. Rather do not buy  PPE masks, leave them for essential service providers to use instead.


We are all in this together


We now understand that the aim of the mask is to protect those around us from our own droplets. These droplets could land on food or other surfaces that other people may touch. We need to stop the spread of our droplets to people around us. A droplet mask helps to catch your droplets when you are speaking, coughing, sneezing or even just breathing. Since these masks are close to your face, it catches most of the droplets before they start spreading to other surfaces.


If you wear a mask, and I wear a mask, then we protect each other from each other


The Coronavirus (COVID-19) can be transmitted to surfaces through droplets and micro-droplets when a person coughs, sneezes or talks when not wearing a mask. These contaminated surfaces (fomites) are a risk to people who are not infected.

Droplet masks can capture these droplets, thereby mitigating the main transmission route of COVID-19. Since you can transmit the virus before you show symptoms, it is advisable to wear a mask at all times. Droplet masks are effective in preventing the spread of VIRUS CONTAINING DROPLETS which is crucial to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. They are not as efficient as FFP1/2/3, N95 or KN85 masks to prevent the user from contracting COVID-19. 

Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask

Droplet masks are intended to cover both your mouth and nose. They are designed with material that can block large particles like droplets, splashes, sprays and splatter — all of which may contain viruses or bacteria that may be harmful to others.


Droplet masks are effective in preventing the spread of the virus but are not a medically certified device that protects an individual from contracting the virus. 


Steps on how to use and optimize a droplet mask:


Step 1: Clean your hands

  • Before touching the mask, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for 1 minute, or apply a 70% alcohol sanitizing solution.
  • Always use a clean paper towel to dry your hands, and then place the paper towel into a trash bin.


Step 2: Insert a filter if possible

Some homemade masks have pouches for additional filtration. If your aim is to protect yourself you can consider inserting a paper sheet or coffee filter or a clean vacuum cleaner filter cut to size into the pouch.

If your mask has multi layers and does not have a pouch, you can cut an opening into the innermost layer. Typically the best place is to cut the hole is at the bottom. Once the mask is on your head the filter should not fall out, especially if the hole is not too large. If the hole is cut on the side, a piece of loose cloth might constantly irritate the corner of your mouth. If the hole is on the top, then it might hook around your nose and irritate you.


Explanation video: How to insert a filter into a mask


Step 3: Orientate the droplet mask properly.

Typically the side of the mask that has a disclaimer message or visible rough stitching should face towards you.


Step 4: Place the droplet mask on your face and tie the top strap. 

In order for the mask to fit neatly over your face, the top and bottom portion of the mask has side straps that must be tied around your head and/or neck for a comfortable adjustable fit. Some masks hook around your ears, but these masks are not recommended because it is not possible to pull the mask around your neck when you are not using it. Ear clip masks might lie around and become a bio-hazard because people do not want to discard the mask in a bin.  

Pick up the mask by the upper ties, place the ties around the back of your head and or neck and attach them with a knot. Make sure the mask is well positioned over the bridge of your nose. The upper strap can either above or below your ears. If you are wearing glasses it is recommended to let the upper strap pass under your ears so as to reduce the size of the holes on both sides of your nose. I know that DIY solutions recommend using paper clips, or filing clips or pipe cleaners to form the mask over your nose, but with these metal objects close to your eyes you stand the risk of injuring your eyes. Rather pull the droplet mask high up and put your glasses on the cloth to decrease the fogging on of your glasses like in the picture below.

Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask

If you decide to use a metal piece to form over your nose, then rather use a filing clip with the rounded edges, or the insert of a clean disposable mask or the metal part of a typical coffee bean bag. Preferably sew the metal piece into the mask or create a small pouch where it does not stand the risk of injuring your eyes. A secure pouch is recommended because you would like to remove the metal piece when washing your mask or if the metal piece breaks over time. Most droplet masks do not come with a pre-manufactured pouch because it is impossible to know the size of the metal piece that will be used for the nose.

Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask
Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask

Alternatively, if your mask has multiple layers, you can cut a valve into the innermost layer as demonstrated in the picture below. This valve will help to seal the hole next to your nose when you are exhaling to decrease the risk of fogging  your glasses and it opens when you inhale. Before cutting the vales it is recommended to take a single layer cloth meant for the bin and cut the valves. Hold the cloth over your nose and see if the valves you cut work. Repeat these steps with different designs until you find the design that seals the best. Then take this design to your mask and implement.

Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask

Step 5: Tie the lower strap of the droplet mask

You can now tie the lower strap around your neck and ensure the mask fits well over your nose.


Step 6: Fit the droplet mask to your face and under your chin. 

Once the mask is completely secured on your face, adjust it to ensure it covers your face and mouth

Do not adjust or touch the mask without cleaning your hands first. If you make your own masks, try to go for a large mask so as to increase the protected surface area of your face and decrease the risk of touching your face with your hands. But it is not a good idea to ever touch your mask. Your own COVID-19 viruses might spread in a concentrated form from your mask via your hands to other surfaces.

ALWAYS clean your hands before you touch your mask. We all know your nose might start to get itchy, but try not not to touch the mask. Doctors and nurses do not touch their masks because they get so used to wearing them. It is a matter of self conditioning. Teach yourself not to touch your mask – get used to the mask touching your face. Wear the droplet mask at home even if it is not needed so as to get used to the mask on your face so that it is not an irritation when you wear it when you leave the house. I have seen too many people standing in queues after they packed their trolleys with groceries fiddling with their masks. Not only will you transmit your viruses and bacteria to the surfaces around you when you touch them, but the risk of your transmitting viruses from the surfaces you touched, to your mask is high. The germs will stick onto the mask and over time you might inhale the germs, because a cloth mask does not protect you as well as a surgical mask for instance after you touched the outside of the mask, or especially if your mask gets wet.

Wet masks are a problem because it might be a perfect environment where bacteria and viruses can survive for long periods of time. The author is of the opinion that one should rather use multi layer polyester masks that stay dry. This is the fabric that is typically used to manufacture cycling and other sportswear shirts to keep the athlete dry.


Pulling the droplet mask down around your neck

When in a safe situation and you temporarily need to remove the mask, for example to eat, then pull the mask down to rest around your neck. Do not remove the mask or adjust it without first cleaning your hands. Do not let the mask lie around as this will pose a possible health risk to other people. When pulling it back over your face, wash your hands thoroughly before and after the procedure.

Keep the mask around your neck when not in use


Removing the droplet mask from your face

Clean your hands before removing your mask for longer periods. With droplet masks with stretch straps it might not be needed to untie the straps. You can then pull the mask up over your head. Otherwise undo the ties and remove the mask. Typically it is only needed to untie the bottom strap.


Washing your droplet mask

Once  you’ve finished using the mask for the day, wash your hands and your mask YOURSELF,  immediately after you remove it. Wash the mask with soap in 60°C hot water, for 2 minutes, rinse and hang to dry.  If possible, hang the mask out in the sun to dry. It makes sense to have at least 2 masks for each person because then one can dry the one mask in the sun while the other mask is used for the day. You will then also have a backup mask if the other one breaks. But please first make sure everyone in your community has a mask before you get yourself a second mask. If you have the means to do so, buy or manufacture lots of droplet masks and distribute it to people who do not have the means of getting hold of a mask.


What does the experts say on the use of droplet masks

South Africa: Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize today recommended the widespread use of masks. He recommended that people use cloth masks & that medical masks be used by healthcare professionals.

WHO: Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19

Europe: See the Scientific evidence and rationale for the use of face masks in the community by persons without symptoms of COVID-19.

USA: Also read the recommendations by the CDC: Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.


Everyone should wear a face mask


Warnings and disclaimers on droplet masks

A warning might contain the following information

Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask
  • This is not a medical device
  • Avoid touching the mask wherever possible
  • Clean hands before and after touching or removing the mask
  • Do not leave the mask lying around. Pull it down around your neck between use – taking care not to touch the mask, but rather the straps
  • Wash your mask immediately after removal for 3 minutes with soap and 60% hot water.
  • You should not share your mask with anybody else

Wearing a mask when in public places, especially crowded places, can help slow the spread of Covid-19. Even when wearing a mask, hand-washing and social distancing remain the most important interventions to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

The public should not wear medical masks – these are reserved for our healthcare workers need medical-grade masks to stay healthy so they can save your live. We must give them the tools to fight that battle.

These masks should only be used for patients and other persons to reduce the risk of spread of infections, particularly in epidemic or pandemic situations. These masks are not intended for use by healthcare professionals in an operating theatre or other medical settings with similar requirements.

Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask
Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask
Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask
Guidelines on how to safely handle a washable, reusable droplet mask