Femail reveals why cotton and cashmere scarves are the best

As people are encouraged to cover their faces with SCARVES to protect against coronavirus, Femail reveals why cotton and cashmere are the best materials, but you should avoid ‘flimsy’ polyester

  • Government’s most senior scientists met on Tuesday to discuss facemasks
  • They ‘will ask Britons to wear masks or DIY face coverings when in public’
  • Experts revealed how scarfs made of merino and cashmere may be best to wear 
  • But advised against wearing synthetic materials like polyester due to fibres
  • Many maintain that the best way to control spread is through handwashing 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Britons are to be advised to wear DIY face coverings or scarves when venturing out in public.

But as the public are being encouraged to cover their faces while travelling, shopping or at work, experts have revealed which scarves may provide the best, and worst, protection from coronavirus.

Dr Shan Soe-Lin, lecturer at Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, and Dr Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, told FEMAIL that people would find high grade cotton scarves most effective and advised that wearers would be better protected if they wrap scarves tightly around their face to create layers of material. 

Meanwhile Paddy Robertson, Global Head of Smart Air, has revealed online how thick scarves made from natural fibre, such as merino and cashmere may work best to prevent the spread of the virus due to their coarse nature.

He also said people should avoid scarves made from synthetic materials like polyester because their fibres tend to be smooth and uniform allowing the virus to pass though them more easily. 

Experts told FEMAIL that those wearing scarves should opt for cotton material with a thick weave, knit or thread count to be most protected from coronavirus, and wrap the scarf tightly and securely in several layers over their nose and mouth


Dr Shan Soe-Lin, lecturer at Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, said: ‘In terms of materials studies have shown that a double layer of thickly woven quilters cotton, 180-count, is the best material.

‘The best materials are those that are still breathable but have tightly woven fibres for filtration.’ 

Paddy, who is Global head of Smart Air, a social enterprise that promotes cost-effective air filters, also revealed how natural materials tend to be a better option than synthetic ones.

He tested over 30 different materials which could be used as a face mask including merino wool, ramie and cashmere scarves as well as cotton. 

Each item was tested for it’s effectiveness in filtering coronavirus-sized microparticles, as well as it’s breathability. 

The three scarves tested made of merino wool, cashmere and lightweight ramie (similar to linen) filtered fewer than 10 per cent of smallpox-sized particles. 

The experts also told how the people should avoid flimsy material or bandanas while out in public, as these could provide less effective protection

The merino wool filtered 8 per cent, while the cashmere caught a total of 6 per cent of the virus.

The scarf test  

If unsure what material a scarf is made from, there is a test which Dr Soe-Lin and Dr Segal advise to see how effective a scarf might be.

Hold the scarf up to the light.

Materials that let a lot of light through are not ideal.

Opt for scarves which are made from thicker and coarser materials.

Those which let little light through will be likely more effective against virus particles. 

Meanwhile, Dr Segal also argued that high-quality material had to be used to block out the virus.

He said: ‘The best performing masks were made from two layers of cotton fabric that sewing people call “quilting cotton”: higher grade material with a tighter weave and higher thread count than typical printed cotton fabrics one might find at a discount fabric store.’


Dr Soe-Lin said the public should avoid ‘thin, flimsy materials or knits.’ 

When trying to find a scarf to wear outside, she explained people should conduct a simple test. 

She revealed: ‘Hold the scarf up to the light – materials that let a lot of light through are not ideal. Same with knits. 

‘Bandanas are too thin – if you only have bandanas, you should wear two and tuck the bottom into your shirt collar so it’s not flapping open.’ 

Passengers on the Jubilee line wear face masks.  Britons are set to be told it is not compulsory to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus

Meanwhile during his investigation, Paddy found the worst scarf material, 100 per cent ramie, filtered just 2.8 per cent of the small particles. 

However scarves made from natural fibre may still be better at protecting against the virus than those created from synthetic fibres like polyester.

He argued synthetic fibres tend to be smooth and uniform, allowing virus particles to pass through them, whereas natural fibres are rougher and more irregular.   

People are pictured wearing facemasks and scarves to cover their nose and mouth in south London yesterday  


Dr Soe-Lin revealed: ‘With a long scarf it’s difficult to keep track of which side was clean or dirty upon re-use, and you definitely would not want to rewrap the scarf with the dirty side against your face.’ 

When wearing the scarf, she said people should ‘double-layer’ if possible, revealing: ‘Keep track of clean and dirty sides, wrap tightly, and most importantly, keep your scarf up the whole time you’re outside.’

She advised against creating a ‘scarf nest’, which she described as people ‘ducking their faces into’ before ‘popping back out.’   

How to make your own coronavirus mask: Scientists are encouraging people to make their own facemasks from T-shirts, sanitary towels or vacuum cleaner bags – with methods shown here

Dr Segal also revealed how any scarf acting as a facemask should be secured tightly around the face, covering the entire nose and mouth, and advised people look to doctors and nurses as a guide.

He said: ‘I’ve unfortunately seen people at stores wearing it below the nose, covering just the mouth, or in other “partial” covering ways.

‘Medical personnel wear masks that extend from the bridge of the nose to below the chin. One should probably try to recapitulate that as best as possible.’


Dr Segal said scarves should be left to dry out if worn outside.


Research on how well various types of masks and face coverings varies but, recently, and in light of the pandemic of COVID-19, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing.

A review of scientific literature by the University of East Anglia found the masks have a ‘small protective effect’ that could shield elderly and vulnerable people from contracting the virus in crowded places. 

The researchers advise they people wear one on public transport, at the supermarket or in hospitals.

But they say the evidence is not strong enough to recommend widespread use of masks in the general population.  

A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

It’s too early for their to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks.

The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials.

N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous.

This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose.

Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria.

For this reason, a JAMA study published this month still contended that people without symptoms should not wear surgical masks, because there is not proof the gear will protect them from infection – although they may keep people who are coughing and sneezing from infecting others.

But the Oxford analysis of past studies- which has not yet been peer reviewed – found that surgical masks were worth wearing and didn’t provide statistically less protection than N95 for health care workers around flu patients.

However, any face mask is only as good as other health and hygiene practices. Experts universally agree that there’s simply no replacement for thorough, frequent hand-washing for preventing disease transmission.

Some think the masks may also help to ‘train’ people not to touch their faces, while others argue that the unfamiliar garment will just make people do it more, actually raising infection risks.

If the CDC does instruct Americans to wear masks, it could create a second issue: Hospitals already face shortages of masks and other PPE.

He said: ‘Make sure they have an opportunity to dry. 

‘Moisture from one’s breath gets trapped in the material of any mask (including hospital grade masks) and likely degrades their effectiveness.

‘In medical settings, we store them between uses (because we have to reuse them now to conserve supplies) in paper bags, not plastic.’

Meanwhile Dr Soe-Ling added that scarves should be washed every use ‘in the hottest water you have available, and then dried in the dryer.’


This comes as the news emerged that Britons are set to be told it is not compulsory to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus – but will be advised to wear DIY face coverings at work, in shops and on public transport.

The government’s top scientific experts have been reviewing key evidence and are will report back to ministers today, with new guidance issued to the public at the weekend.        

SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) are believed to be backing advice on wearing a cloth face mask, such as a homemade mask or scarf if socially distancing is not possible.

This will mean asking people to cover their nose and mouth when they go to the shops and travel on trains, but won’t apply to being in parks and quiet, residential streets. 

But the experts are set to say it should not be compulsory, rather left up to the public on when they should wear them.

They will also warn against the use of medical masks, because it will mean there could be less for NHS. Experts on all sides have repeatedly stressed that surgical facemasks should be reserved for frontline staff so health service supplies are not compromised. 

SAGE will also be guided by the World Health Organisation, who have held off saying masks should be worn to prevent the spread. Other evidence suggests a person wearing a mask could feel like they are sufficiently protected, so will tend to ignore social distancing rules.    

The next review of lockdown measures will take place on May 7, when Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty warned ministers face ‘difficult trade offs’. 

The new guidance may apply to those allowed to go back to work if measures are eased in the next few weeks, according to the newspaper. 

At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Professor Whitty warned social distancing measures would likely be in place for the rest of 2020.   

Professor Whitty was very clear that the only real exit from the lockdown – to allow a full return to normal life – would involve a medical breakthrough. 

Yesterday primary healthcare expert Professor Trish Greenhalgh told a Royal Scoeity of medicine briefing that coronavirus could be ‘wiped out’ in the UK if ’80 to 90 per cent’ of the population wear some kind of facemask. 

She said that she wasn’t in favour of the compulsory use of masks but said that she thought many people would be supportive of the use of homemade ones for a temporary measure.   

Meanwhile, a new initiative was launched to encourage the public to make their own face masks.

The campaign, www.Maskedheroes.uk , also aims to connect people who make masks to individuals and organisations in their community who need them.

A separate initiative – Masks for Heroes – is encouraging businesses which use personal protective equipment (PPE) to check whether they have any supplies which can be donated to frontline services while their businesses are not up and running.


What is the UK advice on face masks? 

It is currently not compulsory to wear a mask or face covering but the Government has said it is continuing to monitor the situation. 

Public Health England (PHE) recommends masks for NHS staff and social care workers but does not suggest other people wear them outside. 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for a change in advice to add ‘another layer of protection’ to members of the public against COVID-19. 

He has previously said: ‘In those circumstances where we can’t keep our social distance, we can’t keep two metres apart, think about when you’re using public transport and you really have to, or you’re in a shop and you can’t keep two metres apart. 

‘Wearing a non-medical facial covering makes it less likely you may inadvertently give somebody else Covid-19.’ 

Will the advice change? 

Scientists are expected to discuss the usage of masks in a meeting on Thursday. 

A top doctor has said it would make sense to advise the public to wear coverings on a voluntary basis and expects the Government to alter its guidance.

The chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘If [people] are coughing and spluttering then it makes complete sense to wear masks in order to protect other people.’ 

He told the BBC’s Today Programme: ‘I think the guidance that we’re expecting to hear is that the wearing of face masks is a voluntary activity not mandated and it certainly makes a lot of sense to focus limited resources that we have at the moment on those who have greatest need and that’s the health professionals.’ 

Are there enough masks for key workers and the general public? 

NHS bosses have urged the Government to make sure that there are enough masks for medical staff before making any compulsory orders for the public. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and NHS trusts in England, asked ministers to ‘fully assess’ the potential impact on healthcare supplies. 

In a statement on Monday, he said: ‘Fluid repellent masks for health and care staff are key to safety and to avoid the spread of coronavirus. 

‘Securing the supply of masks, when there is huge global demand, is crucial. This must be a key consideration for Government. 

‘There needs to be clear evidence that wearing masks, along with other measures, will deliver significant enough benefits to take us out of lockdown to potentially jeopardise NHS mask supply.’ 

Will I be given a mask if they are made compulsory? 

The Government has said it ‘can’t promise’ everybody will be given a mask for free if the public are forced to wear them. 

Matt Hancock was asked the question by former Labour minister Hilary Benn in the House of Commons, and replied: ‘I can’t promise that we will give everybody free masks, I mean that would be an extraordinary undertaking, and we do have to make sure that we have supplies available especially for health and social care staff, where the scientific advice throughout has been that the wearing of masks is necessary in those circumstances and we’ve got to make sure the provision is there for them.’ 

Are they effective?

According to European scientists there is no evidence that non-medical standard face masks or other covers offer protection to wearers. 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says that a non-medical mask has a filter efficiency of between two and 38%. 

However, the World Health Organisation recommends face mask use during pandemics to reduce transmission from asymptomatic people. 

Can I make my own mask? 

Masks can be made from cloth materials found at home, or items that can be wrapped around the face such as a scarf. 

Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary healthcare at the University of Oxford, told a Royal Society of Medicine web briefing: ‘How do you make your own mask? 

You take two pieces of cotton, or a piece of cotton folded over, and you take a pantyliner or something like that [with] waterproof backing, you stick it between those. 

‘And then you hook it around the back of your ears.’ 

Do homemade masks work for doctors? 

European researchers have suggested cloth masks may not be effective for healthcare settings. 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said rates of illness were much higher among healthcare staff using masks made out of cloth instead of surgical masks. 

It said: ‘Altogether, common fabric cloth masks are not considered protective against respiratory viruses and their use should not be encouraged.

‘In the context of severe personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, and only if surgical masks or respirators are not available, homemade cloth masks (eg scarves) are proposed as a last-resort interim solution by the US CDC until availability of standard PPE is restored.’




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