German Coffee Filter Maker Melitta Produced 10 Million Masks

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Wearing a face mask has become a public requisite in much of the world, as people try to protect themselves and others from the airborne spread of the coronavirus. But widespread shortages of the protective gear has required some improvisation.

Now, Melitta, the German company often credited as the inventor of the paper coffee filter, is repurposing its factories to produce filter-shaped facial coverings for the local community. The secret ingredient: a triple layer of melt-blown microfiber, typically used by Melitta for weaving vacuum cleaner bags.

The material has a Bacterial Filtration Efficiency certification of above 98 percent, which is comparable to medical-grade protective wear. Meanwhile, the shape of Melitta’s other leading product, the coffee filter, is already perfectly shaped to cover the human face. The combination of the two products seems to be kismet.

“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, explained.

Since the coffee filter shape was already ideal to fit human faces, the transition to producing masks was relatively seamless. The company redirected its supply of the “melt-blown fiber” material from its vacuum bag factory, 30 miles down the road to its coffee filter factory, where it now produces masks on the same machines it had previously used to make coffee filters.

With the addition of a thin rubber band, these filters are ready to be worn over the face as protective garb. In the first month of production alone, the company has been able to produce ten million masks. The first batch went to present and retired Melitta employees and their families. Pending government approval, Melitta plans to donate their supply to those in need in their region, and eventually sell the masks at an affordable price to a wider, international market.