Can antimicrobial masks, clothing protect against COVID-19?

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, antimicrobial face masks seem to be popping up everywhere online. But do they really provide any extra protection against the virus?

Antimicrobial materials, such as silver, have been used in workout clothing and athleisure for years because of their odor-fighting properties. For example, Athleta and Lululemon use silver fibers from Noble Biomaterial, which are woven into the fabric of some of their workout clothing. According to Noble Biomaterial’s website, “positively charged ions” in silver are released “in the presence of moisture,” such as when you sweat. “This ionic action helps inhibit and eliminate microbes on the surface of the product, protecting it from microbial impacts,” including odor. (Yahoo Life tried to contact Noble Biomaterials but did not receive a response.)

Are all cloth masks equal in their COVID-19-prevention powers? Some claim those with antimicrobial fabric work better, while others say they may be a waste of money. (Getty Images)
Are all cloth masks equal in their COVID-19-prevention powers? Some claim those with antimicrobial fabric work better, while others say they may be a waste of money. (Getty Images)

With the pandemic, antimicrobial treatments have extended to face masks and even clothing, with manufacturers on Amazon, Etsy and others jumping on the antimicrobial bandwagon. The men’s clothing brand Buck Mason is one of several companies that sell antimicrobial face masks with a coating that “protects against both viruses and microbes,” Jodi Marquez, Buck Mason’s director of sourcing and production, tells Yahoo Life. “Buck Mason’s antimicrobial masks are coated on the inside and outside, which blocks microorganism spread both from the inside and outside.” The antimicrobial properties last for up to 30 washes, but the brand doesn’t claim that the masks inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.

Some clothing companies are looking at ways that fabrics can help fight the virus. The jeans company Diesel has partnered with the Sweden-based fabric treatment company Polygiene to apply its antiviral textile treatment ViralOff to the brand’s spring-summer 2021 denim line, according to a July press release. The technology, which lasts for the lifetime of the garment, “has the capacity to disable over 99 percent of viral activity within two hours of contact between pathogens and fabric,” according to the release. “ViralOff has shown efficacy against a comprehensive range of viruses, including COVID-19. It works by interacting with key proteins, inhibiting the virus from attaching to textile fibers.”

But while face masks with antimicrobial treatments may be more sanitary by preventing the growth of bacteria that can cause odors, that’s not the same thing as being antiviral. In other words, just because a face mask has antimicrobial properties doesn’t mean it can inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19 — or that it’s any better at preventing the spread of the coronavirus than wearing a regular face mask.

Regarding antimicrobial clothing, Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, tells Yahoo Life that “this is creating something where there really is no need” since the virus isn’t spread in “a significant way in skin contact with inanimate objects.”

Face masks, on the other hand, help slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Winslow says that people don’t need to “waste” their money on antimicrobial masks in particular and adds that they can “potentially give people a false sense of security” by thinking they have extra protection against the coronavirus.

“The way this virus spreads is 99 percent, if not more, by small-particle aerosols or large-particle droplets that are coughed or sneezed,” says Winslow. “If you happen to be shedding the virus, [a face mask] prevents you from generating these aerosols that can infect other people. And more recently, it’s been shown that wearing cloth face coverings also provides some degree of protection for the wearer.”

Winslow explains that the coronavirus can become “inactive” just by using soap and water. “Throwing clothes in the washing machine with regular detergent or washing your face covering in the washing machine is more than adequate,” he says. “It will kill all of the virus. So you don’t need fancy things like silver” in face masks or clothing.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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