Now that we're all (hopefully) getting used to wearing masks in public, it feels like time to add another layer to our pandemic routine doesn't it?

Research out of Northeastern University indicates that adding a nylon layer outside of a homemade mask can boost its effectiveness. According to NPR, the nylon addition increases the masks ability to filter out small particles by creating a tighter seal around the mask. In fact, in some cases, adding the nylon layer made homemade face coverings more effective than medical-grade surgery masks.


The nylon even made surgical medical-grade surgical masks more effective, pushing a standard surgical mask from blocking 75% of small particles to 90%, rendering it nearly as effective as the N95 mask, which blocks 95%.

Loretta Fernandez, one of the scientists on the Northeastern University research team, told NPR that the key to the nylon working was the way it compressed the mask to the face, sealing off any leaks around the edges. "It really improved the performance of all of the masks," she said, "and it brought several of them up and over the baseline mask we were using, which was a 3M surgical-type mask."

The effectiveness of cloth masks vary widely, with some masks in the study only blocking 30% of small particles. Using a thicker weave cloth and adding more layers to a mask helps boost its ability to filter, though any face covering is better than nothing.

With improvements of 15% to 50%, however, the nylon trick is worth trying. Fernandez suggests using queen-sized pantyhose to keep the nylon from being uncomfortably tight. Simply cut 8-inch to 10-inch strip of pantyhose leg and place it over your mask so that it overlaps around all the edges.

Though the research has not yet been peer-reviewed, Ben Cowling, an epidemiology professor at the University of Hong Kong who has studied the efficacy of face masks, says that the study and its findings are "important" and "promising."

"We need better information on what kind of homemade masks, what kind of fabric masks, are the best," he told NPR, "and how we can improve or upgrade basic masks to make them better."

The beauty of this upgrade is that it's cheap, easy, and works with any kind of mask. For medical workers short on PPE, nylon rings may offer an increase in protection, especially when cloth masks are the only face coverings available.

Since the coronavirus isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and we're still a long way from a vaccine, mask-wearing is going to have to be the new norm. Whether you sew your own, buy one from a seller, or use a no-sew mask, it looks like adding a layer of pantyhose to it might be wise.