Could a 'snack mask' protect against COVID-19? We asked a scientist.

Are horses onto something?

Are horses onto something? Getty Images/iStockphoto

You know you’ve thought about it: Face masks double as the perfect hands-free snack holders. 

On one recent balmy afternoon, while aimlessly wandering a neighborhood street, we too wondered…. What if stuffing the right treat in there could keep us safe from the virus, not unlike the CDC-recommended coffee filter insert? 

“This is a really fun question to think about!” responded Shi En Kim, a graduate student in molecular engineering and materials science at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, when asked if popping a handful of Triscuits into a homemade face mask might lend added protection against COVID-19. 

“Masks like N95 work because they filter out particles. The COVID particle is several hundred nanometers in size. If you hold a Triscuit to your eye, you can see the holes through it, meaning that Triscuit holes are probably way too large to provide decent protection against COVID,” she explained via email.

“The biggest problem I see with snack masks is overcoming the temptation to eat your mask and leaving bite holes in them. Not to mention ingesting all the viruses caught in the mask, if the snack mask somehow managed to block a paltry few virus particles…”

“However, let's say we are undeterred and want to live life on the edge,” Kim continued, breaking down the science of a Triscuit’s (in)efficacy as a particle filter. 

“One really tiny way a Triscuit might help is that it contains a long (to a virus particle), tortuous network of holes. Think of it like a maze of sorts to the virus. These long, winding holes may prevent air particles from diffusing through the mask quickly, buying us a little more time before an active virus reaches the other side. Of course, if the mask is wet, then this whole point is moot.”

Also: No one likes wet Triscuits. It must be raining in this hypothetical. Go back inside.

Kim says the most important thing to remember is that, “having almost any mask already helps as long as they cover most, if not all of your mouth and nose. Any of these masks would catch the really large particles such as saliva or snot particles spewing out of our mouths as we breathe, speak, and—god forbid—sneeze and cough.” 

Yes, even a mask made entirely of Triscuits would deter your face goo from splattering onto your kin and brethren. Because of this, Kim ranks the various (hypothetical) masks’ efficacy of protection as follows:

  1. N95
  2. Cloth Mask + Snack Layer
  3. Cloth Mask
  4. Snack Mask (as in: Covering one’s face with Triscuits, no Cloth Mask)

“Although,” she clarified, “‘Cloth Mask’ versus ‘Cloth Mask+Snack Layer’ probably come really, really close, as the Triscuit snack layer doesn't do much.”

Knowing full well that we had placed an unfair burden on Triscuits, specifically, we also asked Kim what snack might better do the job.

“In terms of other snacks, I don't know which would do better. Probably something that is a little denser with fewer holes,” she began. “A cake mask? One made of bagel bread? Chocolate was one of the first that came to my mind! But now we would have a different problem at hand—breathability. A pure chocolate mask would probably asphyxiate wearers before COVID gets to them…”

A lot to think about here, folks! 

Just wear a mask when out in public. Any mask, dammit.