Face masks are now a necessary tool in our daily routines, but like everything else in life, one size doesn’t fit all — and new face mask designs are being released frequently. Early on in the pandemic, it became clear that the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) community faced a significant disadvantage when it came to face masks, as many rely on reading lips to effectively communicate. Enterprising sewers thought of a way to incorporate clear windows into face masks, but as more manufacturers create face masks that meet public guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shoppers are now able to buy clear face masks if they can’t make them at home.
These clear face masks are crucial for the DDH community, but they may also be a vast improvement for caregivers in a senior facility or even teachers in a classroom, explains Robert Amler, M.D., the vice president for government affairs at New York Medical College and former CDC chief medical officer on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Even people who are not hard of hearing can understand you better when you’re speaking and they can see your mouth moving,” Dr. Amler says, adding that smiles, grimaces, or other facial expressions are key in many settings. “[Expressions] is also part of our communication, and some may be a lot happier working and living together in the long haul if we can see each other’s mouths.”
How to make a clear face mask:
Because this is a newer product, only a few retailers have created manufactured masks that are appropriate for long-term use thus far. Most of the clear face masks available to buy online currently come from third-party sellers on sites like Etsy, which means most people are sewing their own DIY clear face masks at home. If you’ve sewn face masks before, or are looking to make your first project a clear mask for your own household, there are free templates you can use to create a safe option for use.
The DIY creators at Cricut have partnered with the Hearing Loss Association of America to donate window masks to the DHH community, in addition to donating more than 1 million masks to communities across the country. In doing so, the company has created a free clear face mask pattern that’s made with a vinyl window — sewers can complete the project at home with step-by-step instructions and templates. Making these items yourself can ensure the mask is closely aligned with CDC guidelines for proper fit.
Is it safe to wear a clear face mask?
Face masks largely reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus by keeping asymptomatic people from spewing infectious particles into crowded spaces. A June review published in The Lancet demonstrates that wearing a mask curbs the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in public: “If somebody is wearing a mask, and they are infected, it is far less likely for the people around them to get infected, as long as these people are wearing what [doctors] call ‘source control,’ a control at the source of the droplets,” Dr. Amler adds.
Dr. Amler says there’s no definitive evidence yet on whether a cloth-based mask is superior in terms of transmission prevention compared to a clear face mask; medical-grade respirators are still superior to most options, but are reserved for medical professionals. Cloth-based face masks are best when made with tightly-woven fabrics, and the same is true for clear face masks. Dr. Amler says it’s crucial to look for the following when buying a clear face mask:
- Try to source a fabric that is tightly woven. One-hundred percent cotton is best, but some masks will also mix a layer of cotton with polyester, or knit fabrics instead.
- Make sure there are no holes or punctures near the window. The seam between the plastic or transparent material and the actual cloth mask needs to be super tight for it to effectively trap airborne particles. If it looks loose or unfinished, do not wear it.
- Make sure it wraps around your nose, chin, and cheeks snugly, creating a seal if possible. You do not want major gaps in any area, and it should be built to entirely cover your nose and mouth.
- Look for any features that work against fogging. “Most plastic yellows over time and will need to be replaced, especially if it consistently builds up moisture that’s not wiped away,” Dr. Amler says. Some plastics may be treated to repel condensation, which is better for clear masks.
The biggest mistake that people can make when wearing clear masks, Dr. Amler explains, is to remove it in public due to condensation build up. Just like any other face mask, you’ll need to wash your hands before handling a clear mask, and you should be in a private setting when doing so. You’ll need to disinfect or sanitize your mask after each use, and if it’s made with certain materials, washing and drying them might melt the smile window altogether. If you plan to regularly use clear face masks, try buying multiples so you can ease the wear and tear on each.
Below, we’re sharing our the best picks to buy if you are unable to make a clear face mask at home:
The Smile Mask
Designed by a speech pathologist based in Boston, this mask is made with a BPA-free plastic window that can be treated with additional moisture-repellant agents for all day use. It comes equipped with adjustable ear loops and is made with three-layers of 100% cotton. The manufacturer says the item should be hand-washed as high heat in a dryer may affect the quality of the window itself (just like many other see-through models). Rafi Nova’s masks are bundled in 2, 10, or 50 packs.
Navy Face Masks with Clear Window
A window mask made with plastic and a cotton-based face covering, users say this clear face mask is comfortable and effective for lip reading with clients or students. One shopper says the plastic interior should be treated with an agent to prevent fogging in long-term use: “Rub a thin layer of Dawn dish soap onto the plastic area with your finger,” she advises, with other reviewers mentioning shaving cream as another effective agent. “Rub it off well with a paper towel. No more fogging!”
ClearMask™ Box (24 Masks)
According to a recent NPR report, this brand is one of the only face masks containing a window to earn the Food and Drug Administration’s approval. The brand’s CEO Aaron Hsu told NPR this wrap-around mask with adjustable ties was made after three years of research and development, and the mask’s proprietary material won’t fog as easily as vinyl plastic. You can also buy ClearMask varieties that can be secured via ear ties.
Clear Window Face Mask
A top-seller for face masks on Etsy, this brand has created a window-enhanced face mask that has garnered 1,400+ 5-star reviews. The masks also come in sizes and patterns designed for kids’ use. “As a teacher I am so happy that it is comfortable to wear and easy for my students to see my face,” one reviewer shared.
Anti-Fog Adults and Kids Clear Mask
This mask made by another top-performing Etsy merchant comes pre-treated with a fog-repelling treatment on this vinyl window. The face mask base, which comes in kids and adults’ sizes, is made with a three-layer cotton base and ear loops to secure the mask to your face. “I got masks from a few sellers and this is by far the best,” one shopper shared. “Very well made and easy to put it on my kids.”
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