Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) may spread through respiratory droplets released by infected individuals during coughing, sneezing, or speaking. Given the limited supply of professional respirators and face masks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended home-made cloth face coverings for use by the general public. While there have been several studies on aerosol filtration performance of household fabrics, their effectiveness at blocking larger droplets has not been investigated. Here, we ascertained the performance of 11 common household fabrics at blocking large, high-velocity droplets, using a commercial medical mask as a benchmark. We also assessed the breathability (air permeability), texture, fiber composition, and water absorption properties of the fabrics. We found that most fabrics have substantial blocking efficiency (median values >70%). In particular, two layers of highly permeable fabric, such as T-shirt cloth, blocks droplets with an efficiency (>94%) similar to that of medical masks, while being approximately twice as breathable. The first layer allows about 17% of the droplet volume to transmit, but it significantly reduces their velocity. This allows the second layer to trap the transmitted droplets resulting in high blocking efficacy. Overall, our study suggests that cloth face coverings, especially with multiple layers, may help reduce droplet transmission of respiratory infections. Furthermore, face coverings made from materials such as cotton fabrics allow washing and reusing, and can help reduce the adverse environmental effects of widespread use of commercial disposable and non-biodegradable facemasks.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100924
JournalExtreme Mechanics Letters
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Coronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)
  • Novel coronavirus
  • 2019-nCoV
  • Pandemic
  • cloth face covering
  • face mask
  • respiratory droplets
  • droplet blocking
  • breathability
  • Cloth face covering
  • Face mask
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Breathability
  • Respiratory droplets
  • Droplet blocking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Bioengineering
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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