This article originally appeared on Food & Wine.
Wearing a coffee filter as a COVID-19-fighting mask isn’t entirely as ridiculous as it sounds. As Melitta—the German company credited with inventing the paper coffee filter—will tell you, they already make a standard-sized cone filter that fits the face perfectly. Instead, the problem is the material: Paper isn’t great for keeping out coronavirus, but the fibers Melitta uses for making vacuum filters is. And so, with a few production tweaks, Melitta—a company known for coffee filters—is now churning out millions of essentially medical-grade, coffee filter-shaped face masks.
“The ergonomics of the thing, the fact that the filter fits exactly over mouth, nose and chin is so unbelievable that you might call it a gift from heaven,” Katharina Roehrig, a managing director at Melitta, told the New York Times. Since the shape was already correct, making masks turned out to be pretty simple. The company rerouted its supply of a material known as “melt-blown fiber” 30 miles down the road from the vacuum filter factory to the coffee filter one. There, Melitta is now able to make masks on the exact same machine they had been using for coffee filters. They pack these masks with rubber bands to turn them into facial wear, and—boom—that’s it. Ten million of these coffee-inspired masks have already been produced in the first month alone.
Ironically enough, one of the trickier steps appears to be getting government approval to sell the masks as a medical supply—Melitta is still waiting on that—but the Times writes that the material, “a triple layer of melt-blown and spun-blown microfiber,” has a Bacterial Filtration Efficiency certification that’s similar to basic medical masks already in use.
As a result, in theory, medical professionals could use a mask to protect themselves and a filter for the coffee that helps get them through their shift that were made on literally the same machine. But don’t get the two mixed up: Just like a coffee filter doesn’t make for a perfect mask, the masks apparently don’t make a very good cup of joe.
Melitta coffee filters are available in America, but for now, at least, the masks are not being sold outside of Germany.
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