Do mask hacks work? Some tips for making your homemade face covering more effective

BOSTON — The statewide order requiring everyone in Massachusetts to wear a mask when out in public if social distancing isn’t possible goes into effect Wednesday, so now’s the time to make sure you’ve got a mask or two ready to wear.

You may have seen demonstrations on Facebook where people try to blow out a candle with a mask on. If you can move the flame or blow it out, then your mask probably isn’t doing much, the posters say.

Glenn Gaudette, a biomedical engineering professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, agrees. He says first and foremost, a tight fit is key. The mask should be flush against your face to keep air droplets carrying the virus from entering and exiting your mouths and nose.

“Every time we breathe, our breath actually has water droplets in it," Gaudette explained, "If you hold a mirror up you can see the fog on the mirror and so that fog is due to the water droplets in our breath.”

Some people are using pantyhose and coffee filters as filtration systems by adding them to either the inside or as an outer layer, over the mask. Gaudette says it’s not a bad idea and could be more effective than just fabric alone comparing it to a tightly woven chain-link fence, preventing things from getting in or out.

“The virus is kind of like the size of a golf ball, so a golf ball can get through a chain-link fence, but if you start adding more and more chain link fences, now it’s going to be harder and harder for that golf ball to exit or enter," he said.

Gaudette and his family wear masks made by a neighbor with several features that make them slightly more effective, he said. The neighbor sewed in a pocket where coffee filters can be added.

Another feature he suggests adding to create a tighter seal: a pipe cleaner, wire, or a rolled piece of tin foil sewn into the top of the mask which can be fitted around your nose.

And if you wear glasses, consider using medical tape (you can purchase at most stores) to seal the mask onto your face, just under your glasses. This will help prevent them from fogging while you’re wearing a mask, he said.

The most important factor is compliance and regularly wearing a mask. He says if a pantyhose or a coffee filter lining means you can’t breathe when you wear the mask, you’re less likely to wear it, so make some tweaks to make it more comfortable and something you can actually wear.

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