Does a cloth mask reduce your chance of contracting viruses that cause respiratory illnesses like COVID-19?

Last updated: January 24, 2022
There is no consensus in the literature on this question. We encourage you to read the study summaries below or the studies themselves if you have access. Some publishers make their articles available for free.
This short answer was generated by aggregating the answers that each of the studies below gave to the question (as indicated by State of K members) and adjusting for source quality and other factors. If key studies are missing or the answers attributed to individual studies are incorrect, the above answer could be wrong. For medical questions, don't rely on the information here. Consult a medical professional.
4
YES ANSWERS
3
NO ANSWERS
1
NO DATA ON ANSWER


Chart summary of 8 studies examining this question

All answers are assigned by State of K users. The label Couldn't Identify means that State of K was not able to determine whether a study answers the question "yes" or "no". This could be due to several factors. One possibility is that a study found some evidence to indicate that the answer to the question is "yes" and some evidence to indicate that the answer is "no". This often happens when a study uses two or more proxies to study the same phenomenon (i.e. firearm sales figures and self-reported firearm ownership rates as proxies for the prevalence of firearms) and the proxies yield different results when looking for correlations with another phenomenon (i.e. firearm-related deaths). Alternatively, the label may be applied if the phenomenon under study (i.e. whether breast milk improves cognitive function) is true for one group, but not another (i.e. true for girls, but not for boys). Yet another possibility is that a study found there was insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion regarding the question. Finally, the full text or abstract of a study may not have been written clearly or was inaccessible. This would make it difficult to determine how a study answered a question.

All labels of Literature Reviews and source quality are assigned by State of K. All labels of High Quality Source are assigned based on whether the publication in which the article appeared was ranked as Q1 by Scimago Institutions Rankings. Certain well-regarded think tanks are also given this label.

Literature Reviews
Although we recommend you consider all of the studies below, we believe the following studies are literature reviews, which survey and evaluate many studies on this question:

SUMMARIES OF STUDIES
Total studies in list: 8
Sorted by publication year
1
Do homemade or cloth face masks work as a preventive measure for respiratory virus transmission?
"A short-cut review of the available medical literature was carried out to establish whether homemade or cloth face masks can prevent respiratory virus transmission or clinical illness. After abstract review, twelve papers were found to answer this clinical question using the detailed search strategy. The author, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes, results and study weaknesses of these papers are tabulated. It is concluded that there is currently no direct evidence to support the use of homemade or cloth masks by the general public for protection against viral infections."
AUTHORS
Jan Yvan Jos Verbakel
Bert Aertgeerts
Nicolas Delvaux
PUBLISHED
2021 Emergency Medicine Journal
High Quality Source
No
No
2
Efficacy of surgical masks or cloth masks in the prevention of viral transmission: Systematic review, meta-analysis, and proposal for future trial
"Objective: Recommendations for widespread use of face mask, including suggested type, should reflect the current published evidence and concurrently be studied. This review evaluates the preclinical and clinical evidence on use of cloth and surgical face masks in SARS-CoV-2 transmission and proposes a trial to gather further evidence.Methods: PubMed, EMbase, and the Cochrane Library were searched. Studies of SARS-CoV-2 and face masks and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of n ≥ 50 for other respiratory illnesses were included.Results: Fourteen studies were included in this study. One preclinical and 1 observational cohort clinical study found significant benefit of masks in limiting SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Eleven RCTs in a meta-analysis studying other respiratory illnesses found no significant benefit of masks (±hand hygiene) for influenza-like-illness symptoms nor laboratory confirmed viruses. One RCT found a significant benefit of surgical masks compared with cloth masks.Conclusion: There is limited available preclinical and clinical evidence for face mask benefit in SARS-CoV-2. RCT evidence for other respiratory viral illnesses shows no significant benefit of masks in limiting transmission but is of poor quality and not SARS-CoV-2 specific. There is an urgent need for evidence from randomized controlled trials to investigate the efficacy of surgical and cloth masks on transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and user reported outcomes such as comfort and compliance."
AUTHORS
Lucy Davies
Pankaj Roy
Vivian Chi-Mei Man
Ava Kwong
Ivan Hung
Akriti Nanda et al
PUBLISHED
2021 Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine
Literature Review
High Quality Source
No
No
3
Rapid review of the effects of cloth and medical masks for preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in community and household settings
"Background: Evidence on mask use in the general population is needed to inform SARS-CoV-2 responses.Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of cloth and medical masks for preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in community settings.Methods: Two rapid reviews were conducted searching three electronic databases (PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Library) and two clinical trials registries on 30 and 31 March 2020.Results: We screened 821 records and assessed nine full-text articles for eligibility. One and seven RCTs were included for cloth and medical mask reviews, respectively. No SARS-CoV-2-specific RCTs and no cloth mask RCTs in community settings were identified. A single hospital-based RCT provided indirect evidence that, compared with medical masks, cloth masks probably increase clinical respiratory illnesses (relative risk (RR) 1.56; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.98 - 2.49) and laboratory-confirmed respiratory virus infections (RR 1.54; 95% CI 0.88 - 2.70). Evidence for influenza-like illnesses (ILI) was uncertain (RR 13.00; 95% CI 1.69 - 100.03). Two RCTs provide low-certainty evidence that medical masks may make little to no difference to ILI infection risk versus no masks (RR 0.98; 95% CI 0.81 - 1.19) in the community setting. Five RCTs provide low-certainty evidence that medical masks may slightly reduce infection risk v. no masks (RR 0.81; 95% CI 0.55 - 1.20) in the household setting.Conclusions: Direct evidence for cloth and medical mask efficacy and effectiveness in the community is limited. Decision-making for mask use may consider other factors such as feasibility and SARS-CoV-2 transmission dynamics; however, well-designed comparative effectiveness studies are required."
AUTHORS
C Mathews
Y Balakrishna
T Kredo
K Rees
V Ramokolo
T Chetty et al
PUBLISHED
2021 South African Medical Journal
No
No
4
The Potential for Cloth Masks to Protect Health Care Clinicians From SARS-CoV-2: A Rapid Review
"Purpose: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led at times to a scarcity of personal protective equipment, including medical masks, for health care clinicians, especially in primary care settings. The objective of this review was to summarize current evidence regarding the use of cloth masks to prevent respiratory viral infections, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), among health care clinicians.Methods: We searched 5 databases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, and the reference lists of identified articles on April 3, 2020. All identified publications were independently screened by 2 reviewers. Two authors independently extracted data and graded the studies. Randomized control trials (RCTs) were graded using the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) checklist, and observational and nonhuman subject studies were graded using 11 domains common across frequently used critical appraisal tools. All discrepancies were resolved by consensus.Results: Our search identified 136 original publications. Nine studies met inclusion criteria. We performed a qualitative synthesis of the data from these studies. Four nonrandomized trials, 3 laboratory studies, 1 single-case experiment, and 1 RCT were identified. The laboratory studies found that cloth materials provided measurable levels of particle filtration but were less efficacious at blocking biologic material than medical masks. The RCT found that cloth masks were associated with significantly more viral infections than medical masks.Conclusions: The current literature suggests that cloth materials are somewhat efficacious in filtering particulate matter and aerosols but provide a worse fit and inferior protection compared to medical masks in clinical environments. The quality and quantity of literature addressing this question are lacking. Cloth masks lack evidence for adequate protection of health care clinicians against respiratory viral infections."
AUTHORS
Cleveland Piggott
Anne Strong
Haylie Petrick
Jessica Kole Hall
Ariel Kiyomi Daoud
PUBLISHED
2021 Annals of Family Medicine
Literature Review
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes
5
Assessment of cloth masks ability to limit Covid-19 particles spread: a systematic review
"After the spread of Covid 19 worldwide, the use of cloth masks increased significantly due to a shortage of medical masks. Meanwhile, there were different opinions about the effectiveness of these masks and, so far, no study has been done to find the best fabric masks. This study reviews and summarizes all studies related to fabric masks' effectiveness and various fabrics against coronavirus. This systematic review is based on PRISMA rules. Two researchers separately examined three databases: PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science. Laboratory and clinical studies were included. After extracting the articles, their quality was assessed with the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) tool. In addition to efficacy, other factors, including the penetration of masks, pressure drop, and quality factor, were examined to select the best fabrics. Of the 42 studies selected, 39 were laboratory studies, and 3 were clinical studies. Among the various fabrics examined, cotton quilt 120 thread per inch (TPI), copy paper (bonded), hybrid of cotton with chiffon/ silk, and flannel filtration were found to have over 90% effectiveness in the particle size range of Covid-19. The results and comparison of different factors (pressure drop, filtration efficacy, penetration, filtration quality, and fit factor have been evaluated) showed that among different fabrics, hybrid masks, 2-layered cotton quilt, 2-layered 100% cotton, cotton flannel, and hairy tea towel + fleece sweater had the best performance. Clinical studies have not explicitly examined cloth masks' effectiveness in Covid-19, so the effectiveness of these types of masks for Covid 19 is questionable, and more studies are needed."
AUTHORS
Omid Mehrpour
Mohammad Abdollahi
Samaneh Nakhaee
Farshad M Shirazil
Mahshid Ataei
PUBLISHED
2021 Environmental Science and Pollution Research volume
Literature Review
Couldn't Identify
Couldn't Identify
6
Efficacy of cloth face mask in prevention of novel coronavirus infection transmission: A systematic review and meta-analysis
"INTRODUCTION:Novel coronavirus is believed to be tiny enough (0.08–0.14 μm) to penetrate through face mask, thus protection offered by cloth mask may be too low. However, the use of cloth face mask in community has been recommended by the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and regulatory bodies of other countries. There is paucity of literature on efficacy of cloth face mask in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection transmission; thus, this review aims to update the available most recent evidences on efficacy of cloth face masks in prevention of viral infection transmission.METHODS:We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Clinical Trials Register for identifying studies related to this review using free-text terms and MeSH terms. Both experimental and observational studies on efficacy of cloth masks which were published in English language have been included in this review except expert opinions, commentaries, editorials, and review articles. Twelve studies were eligible to be included in review for data extraction and qualitative synthesis was carried out from extracted data but quantitative analysis (meta-analysis) could not be performed because of serious heterogeneity between the studies.RESULTS:Cloth face masks show minimum efficacy in source control than the medical grade mask. The efficacy of cloth face masks filtration varies and depends on the type of material used, number of layers, and degree of moisture in mask and fitting of mask on face.CONCLUSION:Cloth face masks have limited efficacy in combating viral infection transmission. However, it may be used in closed, crowded indoor, and outdoor public spaces involving physical proximity to prevent spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection."
AUTHORS
Shiv K. Mudgal
Mayank Mishra
Suresh K. Sharma
PUBLISHED
2020 Journal of Education and Health Promotion
Literature Review
Yes
Yes
7
Forgotten Technology in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Filtration Properties of Cloth and Cloth Masks-A Narrative Review
"Management of the global crisis of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic requires detailed appraisal of evidence to support clear, actionable, and consistent public health messaging. The use of cloth masks for general public use is being debated, and is in flux. We searched the MEDLINE and EMBASE databases and Google for articles reporting the filtration properties of flat cloth or cloth masks. We reviewed the reference lists of relevant articles to identify further articles and identified articles through social and conventional news media. We found 25 articles. Study of protection for the wearer used healthy volunteers, or used a manikin wearing a mask, with airflow to simulate different breathing rates. Studies of protection of the environment, also known as source control, used convenience samples of healthy volunteers. The design and execution of the studies was generally rigorously described. Many descriptions of cloth lacked the detail required for reproducibility; no study provided all the expected details of material, thread count, weave, and weight. Some of the homemade mask designs were reproducible. Successful masks were made of muslin at 100 threads per inch (TPI) in 3 to 4 layers (4-layer muslin or a muslin-flannel-muslin sandwich), tea towels (also known as dish towels), made using 1 layer (2 layers would be expected to be better), and good-quality cotton T-shirts in 2 layers (with a stitched edge to prevent stretching). In flat-cloth experiments, linen tea towels, 600-TPI cotton in 2 layers, and 600-TPI cotton with 90-TPI flannel performed well but 80-TPI cotton in 2 layers did not. We therefore recommend cotton or flannel at least 100 TPI, at least 2 layers. More layers, 3 or 4, will provide increased filtration but there is a trade-off in that more layers increases the resistance to breathing. Although this is not a systematic review, we included all the articles that we identified in an unbiased way. We did not include gray literature or preprints. A plain language summary of these data and recommendations, as well as information on making, wearing and cleaning cloth masks is available at www.clothmasks.ca."
AUTHORS
Myrna B Dolovich
Imogen A Clase
Rupert C L Beale
Aurneen Ashur
Edouard L Fu
Catherine M Clase et al
PUBLISHED
2020 Mayo Clinic
High Quality Source
Yes
Yes
8
Efficacy and Use of Cloth Masks: A Scoping Review
"During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, there has been a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). In this setting, cloth masks may play an important role in limiting disease transmission; however, current literature on the use of cloth masks remains inconclusive. This review aims to integrate current studies and guidelines to determine the efficacy and use of cloth masks in healthcare settings and/or the community. Evidence-based suggestions on the most effective use of cloth masks during a pandemic are presented. Embase, MEDLINE, and Google Scholar were searched on March 31, 2020, and updated on April 6, 2020. Studies reporting on the efficacy, usability, and accessibility of cloth masks were included. Additionally, a search of guidelines and recommendations on cloth mask usage was conducted through published material by international and national public health agencies. Nine articles were included in this review after full-text screening. The clinical efficacy of a face mask is determined by the filtration efficacy of the material, fit of the mask, and compliance to wearing the mask. Household fabrics such as cotton T-shirts and towels have some filtration efficacy and therefore potential for droplet retention and protection against virus-containing particles. However, the percentage of penetration in cloth masks is higher than surgical masks or N95 respirators. Cloth masks have limited inward protection in healthcare settings where viral exposure is high but may be beneficial for outward protection in low-risk settings and use by the general public where no other alternatives to medical masks are available."
AUTHORS
Greg Rose
Heidi Li
Chenchen Xu
Sonya T Kim
Mehr Jain
PUBLISHED
2020 Cureus
Yes
Yes