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I have seen quilt batting (also known as wadding) used in a few face mask tutorials. Today you’ll learn whether it’s OK to use batting in a face mask, if it’s a good filter, and what the best batting is.
I’m using data from a lab study run by TSI, a particle-testing company. They checked the filtration and breathability of 2 types of batting using N95 testing equipment and procedures for better accuracy.
I did a 1 hour test myself. I placed a single layer of cotton batting (no scrim) inside my face masks’ filter pocket, wore it for 1 hour, and then washed it by hand.
I also checked large batting manufacturers websites for information: Pellon, Vilene, Warm & Natural, and Fairfield.
So can you use batting in face masks?
Overall, batting is not the ideal face mask material. It does provide a small amount of filtration, and it’s breathable.
However, it will make your mask hotter and it’s a weak material that’s easy to pull apart. It might break down with regular machine washing. It will definitely be destroyed if hand washed.
If you still want to use it, here are your options.
- You can get polyester or natural fiber battings (Amazon). Data suggests both are breathable. A natural fiber batting will need to be pre-shrunk.
- A high-loft batting will be thicker, and potentially hotter. I would choose a low-loft (Amazon).
- A batting with a scrim (Amazon) might be more durable when washed, however, I have not tested this.
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- What is quilt batting?
- Is quilt batting a good filter?
- Is it too hot to wear?
- Is it breathable?
- Is it washable?
- Would it be a good absorbent layer?
- What’s the best batting material? (fibers, loft, and fusibles)
- Batting vs. interfacing for masks
Related article: 41 Hospital-approved Face Mask Patterns
What is quilt batting (also known as wadding)?
It’s a “puffy”, non-woven material.
Batting is used as the middle layer in quilted textiles. It creates volume and adds padding for warmth and protection.
It’s often used to make quilts, duvets, upholstery, jackets, and coats.
It can be made from many fibers, but the most common is cotton and polyester.
Is batting a good mask filter?
Lab research by TSI shows that batting provides some filtration, but not an impressive amount.
The researchers tested 2 types of batting.
Both battings captured 12-13% of particles. 87-88% of particles simply went through the material.
|———————-||% filtration efficiency||% penetration|
|Pellon Natures Touch Wool Batting (1 layer)||12.993||87.007|
|PolyFil Low Loft Quilt Batting (1 layer)||12.217||87.783|
Here’s more info about the battings they checked:
Pellon Nature’s Touch Wool Batting (Amazon affiliate link). It’s made from 100% wool. Its loft measures 0.25 inches. It’s thermally bonded to prevent “bearding” (fibers shedding).
Poly-Fil Low-Loft (Amazon affiliate link). I believe this is the one by Fairfield. It’s a low-loft, 100% bonded polyester batting.
For context, here’s how they compare to other common materials:
|———————-||% filtration efficiency|
|1 layer of Joanns Fabric 12oz Denim||28.244|
|3 layer Hanes 100% Cotton T-shirt||27.98|
|Joanns Fabric 100% Cotton Flannel (2 layers- washed)||23.03|
|4 layer Viva Classic Paper Towels||22.54|
|Pellon Natures Touch Wool Batting (1 layer)||12.993|
|PolyFil Low Loft Quilt Batting (1 layer)||12.217|
|2 layers of Kona 100% quilters cotton||7.02|
Is batting too hot to wear?
Quilt batting is designed to make a quilt warm.
This is not what we want in a face mask.
I did a 1 hour test wearing a face mask with batting inside. It was 1 layer of cotton batting (no scrim).
Every time I breathed out, the mask got hotter.
For me, the warmth was bearable. However, you might find it very uncomfortable.
Is batting breathable?
Batting is breathable.
It’s not densely woven, so it’s easy for air to go through the material.
I tested my own cotton quilt batting (no scrim). I wore 1 layer of it inside my face mask for an hour.
I found it easy to breathe through.
The data from TSI supports this.
They tested 2 battings and found their resistance to airflow measured 0.1 mm h20 and below. That’s very breathable.
This includes the Polyester one surprisingly.
|———————-||Resistance to airflow (mm h20)|
|Pellon Natures Touch Wool Batting (1 layer)||0.1|
|PolyFil Low Loft Quilt Batting (1 layer)||0.07|
Wait, what’s mm h20?
mm H20 is a way to measure a material’s resistance to airflow, aka. “pressure drop”.
The higher the number, the harder the material is to breathe through.
For comparison, a typical N95 mask has a pressure drop of about 9 mm H20. The maximum that NIOSH will allow an N95 to reach is 35mm H20.
“If the pressure exceeds 15 mm H20 you start to gain a vacuum effect and essentially start to suck air from the sides of your mask losing the benefits of the mask. It will also be uncomfortable and hard to breathe.”C. Schempf (2020). Source: https://www.maskfaq.com/test-results [accessed: 7 May 2020]
So the results for batting are very breathable in comparison.
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Is batting washable?
Batting is made of lots of thin fibers felted together. It’s weak. You can rip it apart easily by hand. This makes cleaning it a challenge.
If you plan to hand wash your face mask, the batting will break down as you scrub. It does not respond well to agitation.
I tested this. I used a single layer of cotton batting (no scrim) as a mask filter.
I hand washed it with soap and water and the fibers started to separate. It had holes in it after 1 wash (see photo above).
Buying a batting with a scrim may or may not help.
According to Pellon, a “scrim binder is a thin sheet of polypropylene — very much like a dryer sheet — that is needle punched onto one or more sides of batting as it is processed…This adds strength and durability…”
However, with the intensity and frequency that you’ll be washing your mask, I don’t know if it’s durable enough. I haven’t tested this.
If you sew your batting permanently inside the mask and machine wash it, your batting might be safer.
Pellon says their cotton batting is machine washable and dry cleanable once inserted into a quilt. But you’ll need to wash it on “gentle” and dry on low heat.
The problem is, quilts don’t need to be washed frequently. However, face masks do. I’m not sure it will hold up well in the long term.
Washing on high heat or boiling it:
Manufacturers recommend washing batting gently, so high heat or boiling water is not ideal. The batting might break apart.
Don’t forget to pre-shrink your batting if it’s made from a natural fiber like cotton.
“Cotton and Cotton Blend battings can shrink up to 3-5%.
To avoid shrinkage prior to use, we suggest you soak the batting in hot water for 20 minutes.
DO NOT AGITATE WHEN WET.
Gently wring or press out excess water and lay flat to dry.
After your quilt is complete, you can machine wash cold on a gentle cycle and dry in dryer on low setting for best results.”Pellon. Source: http://www.pellonprojects.com/resources/faq/ [accessed: 21 July 2020]
100% Polyester batting by Pellon does “not need to be pre-shrunk”.
Could batting be a good absorbent layer?
I read through the World Health Organization’s advice on 3 layer face masks. They recommend having an absorbent layer to trap your droplets better.
Here’s what they say (page 11 of the ‘Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID…’ document):
“Choose water-absorbing (hydrophilic) materials or fabrics for the internal layers, to readily absorb droplets, combined with an external synthetic material that does not easily absorb liquid (hydrophobic).”World Health Organization. Source: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks [published: 5 June 2020]
Could batting be an option?
Probably not. It’s designed to trap air, not hold liquids.
It’s also not dense enough. It doesn’t have enough fiber to do much absorbing.
It might be able to hold some moisture from your breath, but it won’t perform as well as other materials designed to absorb liquid.
These have thicker fibers, are more densely woven, and can handle frequent washing. For example, Zorb, microfibre, hemp, and bamboo toweling (source).
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What’s the best batting material?
Batting comes in different fibers, weights, and constructions.
Polyester and cotton are the most common fibers. However, you’ll also see wool, bamboo, and blended fiber battings too.
The natural fiber ones will be breathable.
Surprisingly, even a 100% polyester batting is breathable, according to the lab study by TSI. This is probably because batting is not densely woven, so it has lots of gaps to allow air flow.
Expect natural fiber battings to shrink when washed. Pellon recommends pre-shrinking their cotton and cotton-blend battings (here’s how).
Fusible battings have glue / bonding adhesive on them.
The open source project, Created for Crisis, is worried that fusible materials may or may not be toxic if breathed in.
We don’t know. So that’s something to keep in mind.
You can get low, medium, and high loft’s. This means batting comes in different thicknesses.
A high-loft batting will be thicker and puffier. A low-loft batting will be flatter.
A thicker batting might be hotter when worn.
Some have a polyester “scrim” that holds the batting together for more strength and durability. This is made from polypropylene, according to Pellon.
Some lower quality battings will annoyingly shed fibers. This is called “bearding”.
Batting vs. interfacing for masks
|———————-||% filtration efficiency||% penetration||Resistance to airflow (mm h20)|
|2 layer Pellon Medium Weight Fusible Interfacing||17.24||82.76||1.08|
|Pellon Natures Touch Wool Batting (1 layer)||12.993||87.007||0.1|
|PolyFil Low Loft Quilt Batting (1 layer)||12.217||87.783||0.07|
TSI found that 2 layers of fusible interfacing was slightly better at filtering than batting.
However, it still only filtered 17.24% of particles, so most particles were still able to penetrate the material.
It’s also very breathable, like the battings.
A potential risk with fusible interfacing is the glue. We don’t know whether it’s toxic or not, according to the open-source project Created for Crisis.
I have an entire post about interfacing for masks. I talk about 4 products you could use, according to an interfacing manufacturer.
C. Schempf. ‘DIY MASK FAQ’. [online] Available at: https://maskfaq.com [accessed: 20 July 2020]
J. Bort (2020). Business Insider. ‘Here’s exactly how well 20 materials for homemade masks — from folded bandanas to blue shop towels — can filter tiny, potentially-dangerous particles, according to an N95 testing company’. [online] Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-materials-that-filter-particles-best-in-homemade-masks-testing-2020-4?r=US&IR=T [published: 25 April 2020]
J. Kim and others (2015). ‘PRESSURE DROP OF FILTERING FACEPIECE RESPIRATORS: HOW LOW SHOULD WE GO?’. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4499853/ [accessed: 29 April 2020]
K. Rose (2015). Plush Addict blog. ‘Cloth Nappy Fabrics 101 Part 3: An Absorbent Fabrics Guide’. [online] Available at: https://blog.plushaddict.co.uk/2015/04/21/cloth-nappy-fabrics-101-part-3-an-absorbent-fabrics-guide/
pellonprojects.com. ‘Frequently Asked Questions’. [online] Available at: http://www.pellonprojects.com/resources/faq/ [accessed: 20 July 2020]
fairfieldworld.com. ‘POLY-FIL LOW-LOFT BATTING’. [online] Available at: https://www.fairfieldworld.com/poly-fil-low-loft-batting/ [accessed: 20 July 2020]
joann.com. ‘Pellon Nature’s Touch Wool Batting 60”x16.5yds’. [online] Available at: https://www.joann.com/pellon-natures-touch-wool-batting-60×16.5yds/14147821.html [accessed: 21 July 2020]
World Health Organization. ‘Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID…’. [online] Available to download at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks [published: 5 June 2020]
Created for Crisis. ‘Frequently Asked Questions’. [online] Available at: https://www.createdforcrisis.org/projects/masks/faq/ [accessed: 21 July 2020]
L. Conner (2020). mybluprint.com. ‘8 Helpful Tips for Choosing the Right Quilt Batting’. [online] Available at: https://www.mybluprint.com/article/what-you-need-to-know-to-choose-the-right-quilt-batting