The DITF are developing different approaches for reusable masks

Textile research under the influence of Corona

The usual protective masks are made of fleece and are thrown away after a single use. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, protective equipment is still in short supply, so the textile industry is looking for alternatives. It is not only a matter of satisfying the demand, but also of the comfort of the equipment and environmental protection. The DITF is pursuing several research approaches to this end.

In addition to self-sewn cotton masks, MNS masks according to EN 14683, also known as surgical masks, are particularly widespread in public areas. These are almost exclusively disposable masks made of very inexpensive nonwoven fabric. In the clinical area they primarily protect the patient from possible germs by the surgeon. The physician is protected from splashing body fluid and direct airflow. For the most part, the wearer does not breathe through the fleece, but unfiltered through the openings between mask and face in the cheek and nose area. Medical face masks must be disinfected (low-germ) but not sterile.

Due to the general obligation to wear masks when shopping and on public transport, masks are often used for several hours. They must therefore above all be comfortable to wear. They must fit well, the fabric must not irritate and it must be easy to put them on and take them off. To avoid waste, they should also be able to be used several times.

In addition to fleece at FFP2 level, the DITF have also developed concepts for ready-made masks. In the field of knitting technology, this is a knitted everyday mask which, according to initial internal tests, achieves a separation efficiency of up to 50 percent – a value which one would not expect knitted fabrics to achieve. One advantage of the mask is that it comes out of the knitting machine ready to use.

But reusable medical face masks can also be produced ready-made on the weaving machine. The DITF and several partners have applied for a project of this kind, the overall concept of which not only involves production at low cost, but also ensures that the masks can be used several times. The advantage lies in the manufacturing concept of these masks. Due to the jacquard weaving technique used, a very precise mask contour can be produced in high quantities. In addition, different mask shapes can be produced without having to change the machine settings at great expense. The results are masks that are individually adapted for different applications and offer significantly improved wearing comfort. The first prototypes of a woven mask have already been designed. Weaving mills have production facilities available for the manufacture of these masks, which have sufficient free capacity.

Antimicrobial yarns such as those produced by TWD Fibres GmbH are suitable for these masks. A new bicomponent plant could be used to produce so-called splitfibres , which are almost as fine as the meltblown nonwovens previously used for MNS masks. The project partner, the Hohenstein Institute, will then test whether the masks comply with the specifications of EN 14683.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a great deal of waste in protective clothing, which is a burden on the environment. Some fibres of reusable masks are even suitable for machine washing, while other materials must be disinfected or can be recycled.

The DITF are planning a research project to test different ways of disinfection. Here too, machines that are currently idle can be used. Used nonwoven masks can be decontaminated with ozone, for example. Ozonisation systems are available on a large scale in the textile industry. Some of them ensure the “used look” of jeans during normal operation.