Which mask works best? We filmed people coughing and sneezing to find out

High resolution image of a man sneezing

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact around the world, resulting in countless human casualties and unprecedented sudden changes in our way of living. Preventing the spread of infection is key to reducing its detrimental impact on society and the economy, both on a global and national level.

The effectiveness of face masks in reducing the risk of infection spread has been highly debated over the course of the current COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, the effect of different kinds of masks on the dispersion of droplets and aerosols while talking, coughing, and sneezing was investigated by Prateek Bahl, Dr. Charitha de Silva and Prof. Con Doolan of UNSW Flow Noise Group, in a collaboration with Shovon Bhattacharjee and Prof. Raina MacIntyre from the Kirby Institute, and Dr. Abrar Chughtai from school of Public Health.

Effect of different kinds of masks in blocking respiratory droplets while spreaking, coughing, and sneezing

The video recordings are clear: While not wearing any mask showed an uncontrolled emission of droplets even while talking, wearing any type of mask reduced the spread of particles substantially. However, significant differences in the effectiveness of the three analysed mask types were observed. Specifically, the surgical mask outperformed a 2-layered and single-layered cloth mask. The 2-layered cloth mask provided a stronger shield for droplets to escape than a single-layered one.

Wearing any type of mask, even single-layered, will reduce the dispersion of pathogen laden droplets to some degree, but there’s more to it than just the number of layers. Find out more in our corresponding article in “The Conversation” with helpful instructions on how to ensure that the masks reach their highest potential.