As the current COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that all Americans wear some kind of cloth facial covering when out in public to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. You can easily make these masks at home for free or at a very low cost.
It’s important to realize that a homemade face mask doesn’t replace hand-washing and social distancing. The New York Times reports that a homemade face mask only offers some protection if you stay the recommended 6 feet away from someone else. Wearing one when out in public can lower the risk you spread the virus to someone else if you’re infected and asymptomatic or presymptomatic. (The jury is out on whether wearing a mask can protect you from others.)
The CDC has asked that people not purchase surgical masks or N95 respirator masks. These are critical supplies doctors, nurses, and first responders desperately need to stay safe from the virus, and most hospitals are experiencing severe shortages of these masks.
Note: This material is provided for informational purposes only. Money Crashers does not claim any of these mask designs can protect you from COVID-19. Please continue to stay updated with and follow CDC guidelines.
Making Masks to Donate
Many people are making homemade masks to donate to doctors, nurses, first responders, or senior citizens in their community. JoAnn Fabrics has enlisted the help of its customers and set a goal of making and donating 100 million masks. They’re even offering free supplies and use of their sewing machines, which they’ve set up per social distancing guidelines, to those who want to make masks to give away.
Deaconess Health System has a comprehensive list of organizations asking for homemade face mask donations. Among those in need are nursing homes, hospices, urgent care centers, substance abuse treatment centers, and oncology centers. You can also check out the website Masks for Heros to see the organizations in your area in need of donations.
Before making or sending masks to donate, reach out to the organization first to find out the guidelines they have in place for staff or patient use. You can also check out the Facebook Group Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies, where thousands of medical professionals, home sewers, and inventors have come together to share design ideas for homemade masks and ventilators.
It’s also important to follow some basic guidelines when making masks to donate.
- Do not make masks if you’re experiencing any symptoms of illness.
- Make a mask for yourself first and wear it while making masks for others.
- Wash your hands before working with materials.
- Wash (in hot water) and dry the fabric several times before creating the mask to avoid shrinkage.
Face Mask Guidelines
The CDC notes that any homemade face masks should follow these guidelines:
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- Be secured with ties or ear loops
- Include multiple layers of fabric
- Allow for breathing without restriction
- Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to its shape
There are some do’s and don’ts to wearing a face mask properly and limiting the spread of infection. The University of Utah makes the following recommendations:
- Make sure you’re using a clean mask.
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before touching your mask.
- Pick up the mask by touching the ear loops. Do not touch the mask itself
- Hold both ear loops and place them over your ears.
- Fit the mask around your nose, mouth, and chin.
- Wear masks completely on or completely off. Do not rest it under your chin.
- Never wear a mask inside out.
- Do not touch the mask or your face. Do not adjust the mask while it is on.
- If you do touch the mask, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer right away.
- Remove the mask if it is soiled or damp.
- To remove the mask, grab the ear loops and lift it off your face.
Which Fabrics Work Best?
When it comes to choosing a good fabric for face masks, you must walk a fine line. You need a material thick enough to stop viral particles, which are incredibly small, yet thin enough that you can breathe comfortably.
According to The New York Times, scientists around the world are currently testing everyday household items, from furnace filters to vacuum bags to flannel pajamas, to figure out which make the most effective face masks.
Although research is still ongoing, Dr. Scott Segal, chairman of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health told The New York Times he suggests doing a light test. Hold the fabric up to a bright light. If the light passes easily through the fibers, and you can see the fibers themselves, it’s not a good candidate for a face mask. If the fabric is dense and the light doesn’t pass through it easily, it’s a better choice for a face mask.
Some materials that might make an effective face mask include:
- High thread-count sheets or pillowcases
- Heavyweight shirts
- Batik fabric
- Quilting cotton
In a different interview with NBC, Segal advises people to avoid knit fabrics, which could let particles through easily. Woven fabrics, like batik, are better choices.
Cleaning Handmade Face Masks
You must clean handmade face masks properly after each use. When masks become wet from the moisture exhaled in your breath, they’re less effective. The CDC says you can safely clean and sterilize handmade masks in a washing machine.
Dr. Raina MacIntyre, an epidemiologist and doctor at the University of New South Wales, said in an interview with The Washington Post that washing face masks and then laying them in the sun to dry is an effective way to sanitize them, as sunlight is an effective means to kill germs.
No-Sew Face Masks
No sewing machine? No problem. There are several homemade face mask designs that don’t require a needle and thread.
Quick CDC Face Masks
The CDC has released instructions for Americans to make quick, easy face masks from supplies they already have at home. Follow these instructions and see the diagrams at the CDC website.
No-Sew T-Shirt Mask
According to the CDC, you can make a quick no-sew mask from an old T-shirt.
Pros: The most significant advantage to this design is that it’s easy and free, as all of us have an old T-shirt we can cut up and use for a mask. But remember, the thicker the fabric, the more protection it can offer.
Cons: T-shirt material is often thin, which won’t offer the best protection compared to other fabrics.
- Measuring tape (or ruler)
- Pencil or pen
- Lay your T-shirt out flat on a work surface. Starting from the bottom of the T-shirt, use the measuring tape to measure 7 to 8 inches up. Here, draw a line or dotted line across the shirt with a pencil or pen.
- Cut along the line going all the way across the shirt, making sure you cut through both the front and back. Discard the top of the shirt.
- Use your measuring tape to measure 6 to 7 inches starting from one of the short edges of the fabric and mark it with your pencil. Turn that edge toward you and measure about an inch from both long edges and mark it with a dot at the short edge of the fabric. Draw a line from both dots to the line you previously drew. Starting at the edge you marked, cut along the lines, making sure you cut through the front and back of the shirt. Then, place your scissors between the front and back of the shirt, cutting through the two small strips on either side of the large square at the point furthest from the large square, which should be a seam. These will be the tie strings that go around your head.
- Place the square mask over your mouth and nose and secure it on your head by tying the upper strips around the upper portion of your head above your ears and the lower strings around your neck at the base of your head.
Bandana Face Mask
The CDC also released this easy-to-make design using a bandana and coffee filters. You can also use mask-appropriate fabric in lieu of a bandana.
Pros: This face mask is free if you already own a bandana or fabric.
Cons: The rubber bands or hair ties for this design might be uncomfortable for some.
- Triangular-shaped (cone) coffee filter (not flat basket)
- Rubber bands or hair ties
- Using the scissors, cut the bottom half off the coffee filter and discard. Set the top half aside.
- Fold the bandana in half and lay it flat on a work surface lengthwise. Place the coffee filter lengthwise in the center.
- Fold the top third and bottom third of the bandana over the filter, keeping the filter in its center spot. The filter should now be completely covered.
- Put the rubber bands or hair ties around the edges of the bandana, pushing them toward the middle until they’re about 6 inches apart.
- Fold the outer edges toward the middle and tuck them together. They will stay in place when you secure the mask to your face. You can also secure the folds with a piece of masking or duct tape (transparent tape doesn’t hold well).
Remove the coffee filter before washing, and use a new coffee filter each time you fold it.
Origami Folded Vacuum Bag Face Mask
Indiana University professor Jiangmei Wu designed a no-sew face mask made using vacuum bags. According to The New York Times’ mask materials report, early tests show that vacuum bags remove 60% to 87% of particles.
Pros: This design is free if you already have vacuum bags.
Cons: You need a printer to print the template for this design. The folding technique might also be challenging for some.
To make Wu’s origami vacuum bag face mask, you only need a handful of supplies many people already have at home:
- 1 (4-inch) twist tie
- 2 (7-inch) elastic straps
- 1 high-efficiency vacuum bag (11-inch-by-11 inch)
Get the full instructions and print the template on the Indiana University website. Just print the template on an 8.5-by-11-inch page at 100% with no scaling and follow the folding instructions.
No-Sew Shop Towel Mask
Peter Tsai, the materials scientist who invented the charging technology used in N95 masks, told The Washington Post car shop towels can make an effective mask because the material is so dense and you can wash and reuse them. You can also use them as a filter for a cloth mask as an additional protective layer.
You can make a no-sew shop towel mask using basic materials many people already have on hand:
Get the full instructions on Jim Happy’s YouTube channel.
Sewed Face Mask Tutorials
If you know how to sew, these tutorials provide a more advanced design. Some require a sewing machine, while others you can hand-sew.
Standard Fabric Face Mask
Kaiser Permanente offers detailed step-by-step instructions with clear pictures for making a standard face mask using a sewing machine. Kaiser recommends using high-quality cotton due to its breathability and ability to hold up well over frequent washings. The cotton should have the same weight and feel as a high-quality dress shirt or bed sheet fabric.
Pros: This design uses ties to secure the mask to the head, which might last longer than elastic straps. Cloth head straps might also be less irritating to facial skin compared to elastic straps.
Cons: Head ties might come loose during the day if not double knotted.
Get the full instructions at Kaiser Permanente.
Rag Mask With Nose Clamp
You can make these masks with just about any fabric you have at home. The design features a filter, which increases the effectiveness of the mask. The site discusses several different types of fabric that make effective filters, including anything with a high thread count. But you can also use fiberglass-free air-conditioning filters.
It also features a nose wire to secure the mask around your nose for added protection. That’s especially helpful for those who wear glasses since those tend to fog up when you breathe in other masks. They recommend copper wire. But you can use any type of secure wire, from paperclips to garden wire.
Pros: This design is wide on the face and uses straps for secure coverage.
Cons: Some people might be uncomfortable having more of their face covered.
Get the full instructions at Rag Mask.
Simple Hand-Sewn Mask
You can hand-sew this double-layered face mask or use a sewing machine for greater speed. If you’re entirely new to hand-sewing, this is an excellent design to start with, as it’s relatively simple.
Pros: This is a simple design suitable for beginners.
Cons: This face mask might be less secure because it lacks a nose wire.
Get the full instructions from CNN.
Masks Customized for Adults, Teens, & Children
This tutorial allows you to customize the size of the mask for men, women, and children, ensuring a proper fit for everyone in the family. There are also several variations to choose from, such as removable filters and a wire insert over the nose.
Pros: With several sizes and design variations, you can create a mask to suit anyone in the family.
Cons: Some designs could be difficult to make if you’re a novice sewer.
Get the full instructions on Craft Passion.
Reversible Burp Cloth Face Mask
This tutorial uses a burp cloth and two additional fabric swatches to make a high-quality hand-sewn mask. The design is also reversible, so if you have two swatches of colorful fabric to use, you can change up the design daily.
Pros: Nanay’s video is fun, and the instructions are easy to follow. Nanay films all the different stitches up close, which can be very helpful for beginners. It’s also flexible. If you don’t have a burp cloth, you can use another type of fabric, such as a flour sack towel.
Cons: The tutorial uses a disposable face mask as a pattern, so you can’t make it if you don’t have access to one.
Get the full instructions on Nanay Express ’ YouTube channel.
Face Mask With Filter
This tutorial by Dr. Jennifer Tessmer-Tuck, vice president of medical affairs at North Memorial Health Hospital, shows you how to make a homemade mask with a filter pocket.
Pros: Tessmer-Tuck’s video is very clear and easy to follow. She says her design takes 20 minutes to complete.
Cons: You must know how to use a sewing machine for this design. You must also print a template for the design.
Get the full instructions on Tessmer-Tuck’s YouTube channel.
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting incredible strain on our nation’s hospital staff, first responders, and other caretakers.
Despite the fear and uncertainty, many people are coming together to make face masks for the most at-risk people. And they’re getting creative with the materials they’re using. For example, a police department in Pennsylvania has started making face masks out of Crown Royal bags. And Bee’s Wrap, a company that typically makes reusable wax food coverings, is donating materials to local needleworkers to use for the masks they plan to donate in the community.
If you’re not feeling crafty enough to make a homemade face mask, you can purchase one on Etsy. Sellers around the world are frantically making homemade face masks to sell, and most prices are fairly reasonable.
Are you making homemade masks for yourself or family? Which design did you choose to work with?