Recommendations from Tengiva’s textile experts to choose the right materials to design safe and effective non-medical masks

Magazine for Textiles, Clothing, Leather and Technology

While many companies and organizations are purchasing masks for their employees, and many manufacturers have transformed their production lines to produce them to meet the demand, Tengiva’s experts have developed a guide to help them make informed and safe material choices. Indeed, there are recommendations available, but no precise framework at this time for the design of non-medical masks. The information circulating also often lacks rigour.

Here are some recommendations that Tengiva would like to share with the mask manufacturer and some questions for supply managers to validate:


Non-medical masks are not intended to protect users from other people. They are intended to reduce the risk of contaminating others by reducing the transmission rate of our own saliva particles.

Textiles to be avoided

These pose a risk of suffocation:

  • Neoprene (unlike 3D knit, with which it is often confused, neoprene contains a waterproof foam in the centre that does not allow enough air to circulate to breathe).
  • Laminated textiles with “plastic” membranes (PUL type fabrics: Polyurethane Laminate).
  • Coated textiles.

Recommended textiles

  • Woven, knitted, there is no preference between one or the other. It is a matter of choosing one or more materials that will be dense enough not to let the particles pass too easily, but will let the user breathe easily.
  • Nonwovens, by the nature of their construction, tend to be more fragile to be washed repeatedly.

*Doing some “home” tests by washing them 50 times, if necessary, and taking before and after pictures, will give manufacturers and buyers a good idea of how the products have evolved.

Except for protein fibres (such as wool or silk), Tengiva hasn’t found any conclusive studies that show whether synthetic fibres (such as polyester) or cellulosic fibres (such as cotton) retain viruses on the surface longer than others. The important thing to remember is that:

  • Medical and non-medical masks lose their effectiveness when wet and;
  • Washable masks should always be washed before reuse.

How many layers?

This depends on the choice of material, if for example manufacturers use thick denim (350 gsm), one layer is sufficient but could be uncomfortable on the face skin. However, if they use lighter, less dense materials, we recommend using at least two layers, or even three.

In any case, it is important to check whether the mask is easy to clean with regular washing and whether it allows people to breathe well while wearing it.

Being cautious of product descriptions

  • Bacteria and viruses are not the same: antimicrobials should not be considered effective on viruses unless there is evidence to the contrary, and this should be documented for a specific strain of a virus.
  • Water-repellent finishes are added to the surface of materials to repel water and liquids from its surface, but do not prevent water penetration. If a liquid, such as a droplet, lands on the exterior materials, the materials will help repel it.

These finishes, antimicrobial and water-repellent, are added values. They are not essential, they do not have a barrier or protective effect, but they add an additional component to reduce other risks.

Tengiva recommends avoiding finishes that will be in direct contact with the skin and respiratory tract. Since it is sometimes difficult to know their exact components and their reaction with the skin or respiratory tract, Tengiva recommends adding untreated fabric or no additional finish between the skin and treated fabric.

Filter or no filter?

Protective filters, such as those used in disposable medical masks, are not designed to be washed. During regular washing, the filter fibres move and lose their filtering capacity, allowing particles to pass through more easily the next time they are used.

Non-medical masks are generally designed to be washable. This is one of many reasons why a washable non-medical mask will not be able to meet medical requirements.

Therefore, Tengiva recommends that non medical mask manufacturors do not attempt to comply with medical standards, and not communicate to their customers that certain components meet these standards, which could be misleading.

How to improve the product?

We recommend that manufacturers do what they do best:

Develop a design:

  • Comfortable, which reduces the need to constantly reposition and touch it;
  • Easy to remove, which reduces the risk of contamination by touching the central area;
  • Fits the contour as closely as possible, try to avoid leaving any gaps that could allow particles to escape easily.

Make sure their user can breathe easily and if they want to go further and stand out:

Add a use and care guide that shows how to remove it safely and how to care for it properly.


About Tengiva

TENGIVA  is a powerful online marketplace that enables manufacturers to feature in-stock textile products, while helping buyers find relevant quantities of what they need for sampling, research & development, designing, product development, sizing and more. Created in 2018 by industrial fashion management major Annie Cyr, a reputed textile sourcing expert, author of the Textile Fibers Guide and founder of CACITH Inc., TENGIVA challenges the textile sourcing status quo, by recognizing consumer needs and technical trends, while developing educational tools and revolutionizing access to resources and information. TENGIVA favors easy, online exchange that empowers and supports sustainable industry growth. Based in Quebec, Canada, TENGIVA serves the industry worldwide.

 To view the complete technical guide