How to Make Your Own Homemade Face Mask

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put a strain our medical professionals, both in numbers and in effort. Hospitals across the globe are struggling to keep up with the demand for available doctors and nurses to fill the enormous holes in our health-care systems. The response has seen retired professionals step back into the line of duty, new mothers strap on the scrubs and nurses work overtime to help the most vulnerable in their darkest times. While there isn’t much that civilians can do to fight the medical battle, there are some important steps we can all take to mitigate risk. By following the strict government guidelines involving social distancing and isolation, we can help to reduce contraction rates. Most importantly, however, is that we leave the desperately-short supply of medical equipment to those most in need.

You can view the Australian Government Department of Health’s official guidance here:

How to Make Your Own Homemade Face Mask

Should You Buy an N95 Face Mask?

According to reports, even the most well-stocked hospitals are beginning to run low on vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as respirators and N95 face masks. Authorities around the world are banding together to create new manufacturing procedures in order to meet supply, with the Queensland government recently announcing $1.2 million of financial assistance to the Evolve Group to begin producing face masks for medical professionals and patients. But the supply will take time to produce, and with face masks already in hot demand, global organisations are asking civilians to cease purchasing surgical-grade face masks for protection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested healthcare facilities consider removing face masks from public areas, only making them available to symptomatic patients upon check-in at entry points. Further, the organisation also implemented ‘extended use’ measures for face masks. “Extended use of facemasks is the practice of wearing the same facemask for repeated close contact encounters with several different patients, without removing the facemask between patient encounters,” the CDC said. The moves are designed to stem the demand for face masks and N95 respirators, ensuring there is enough supply for medical professionals to safely operate.

Hospital workers are the frontline fighters against the COVID-19 pandemic and as such are at high risk of contracting the illness. As a result, it is critically important they have access to the appropriate PPE in order to prevent contraction spreading through medical facilities. Rather than avoid the equipment altogether, however, some crafty home-sewers are putting their skills to good use, producing homemade face masks for civilian use. But how effective are these DIY face masks?

2 How to Make Your Own Homemade Face Mask

Are DIY Face Masks as Good as Medical-Grade?

There is an important distinction to be made when it comes to homemade face masks and that involves effectiveness. While medical-grade equipment such as N95 respirators are understandably far superior in terms of preventing the spread of airborne illnesses, they are specifically designed to mitigate contraction in an immediate surrounding.  This means, wearing an N95 respirator or surgical-grade face mask should be reserved for those coming in close contact with known COVID-19 cases. This particularly pertains to medical professionals and hospital workers.

For civilian-use, basic hygiene and risk management procedures can be highly effective against the spread of the virus. Combine proper hygiene and health precautions with the government’s newly introduced social distancing measures, and for civilians not attending crowded areas or hospitals, the risk of contraction is greatly reduced. That being said, a face mask is a valuable addition for anyone who plans on leaving the comfort of home during this pandemic, but many still question how effective homemade face masks really are.

How Effective are Homemade Face Masks?

A 2013 study by the Disaster Medicine and Public Health Department entitled Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic? revealed that homemade face masks, constructed out of household materials were still effective in reducing aerosol transmission of droplet-spread communicable diseases. The study involved 21 healthy volunteers; 12 men and 9 women aged between 20 and 44 years of age. The results indicated that all of the materials used, which included a cotton t-shirt, scarf, tea-towel, vacuum cleaner bag and pillowcase showed some capability to block the microbial aerosol challenges. The most significant factor was not the material the homemade face mask was constructed out of, instead, it was the fit of the mask itself and the underlying actions of the wearer. However, the result did not definitively state that homemade face masks were inherently successful in preventing the spread of micro-organisms.

“A protective mask may reduce the likelihood of infection, but it will not eliminate the risk, particularly when a disease has more than one route of transmission. Thus any mask, no matter how efficient at filtration or how good the seal, will have minimal effect if it is not used in conjunction with other preventative measures, such as isolation of infected cases, immunisation, good respiratory etiquette, and regular hand hygiene,” the report said. “An improvised face mask should be viewed as the last possible alternative if a supply of commercial face masks is not available, irrespective of the disease against which it may be required for protection. However, these masks would provide the wearers little protection from micro-organisms from other persons who are infected with respiratory diseases.”

The important take-away on how effective homemade face masks are is that while DIY options aren’t definitely accurate, they are likely to have an effect greater than zero. They may not be comparable to medical-grade equipment and N95 respirators, but anecdotal evidence has shown they have an impact on the degree to which particles can travel.

Homemade Face Mask Materials

If you wish to to make a homemade face mask to reduce the risk of COVID-19 contraction, you only need a few materials. We’ve gone with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s method for producing homemade face masks. The required materials include;

  • Two pieces of cotton fabric 7″ x 9″;
  • Two pieces of cotton fabric 1.5″ x 6″;
  • Two pieces of cotton fabric 1.5″ x 40″;
  • Ruler;
  • Pins;
  • Scissors;
  • Sewing machine and thread.

One important factor to note is that all DIY face masks should be constructed from tightly woven, high thread count cotton fabrics. The fabric should not have any stretch, and should not be knit. Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin recommends fabrics such as;

  • Poplin;
  • Shirting;
  • Sateen; and
  • Percale in 100% cotton.

A possible source of fabric is high thread count sheets and pillowcases, as seen in the above experiment, but not all materials will be effective. An easy way to check is to fold it into two layers. You shouldn’t be able to see through the fabric, but you should still be able to breathe if you hold it over your mouth. Before you start, fabrics should be washed and dried on ‘hot’ in order to pre-shrink them.

Some methods will obviously be far more complex than others, but the Vanderbilt University Medical Center method is relatively simple. It does mention that you will need a sewing machine, however, if you are simply making a DIY face mask for yourself, you can easily get away with just a needle and thread. The biggest thing to remember is that you measure and fit the mask accurately to your face.

3 How to Make Your Own Homemade Face Mask

How to Make a Homemade Face Mask

Making a homemade face mask can be a little tricky and does require some basic pattern-making knowledge. As mentioned above, this method for creating a DIY face mask has been suggested by Vanderbilt University Medical Center and details the most simple and effective way to turn a cotton-based material into a mask using elastic.

Homemade Face Mask Instructions (with Elastic)

  1. Put right sides of cotton fabric together (Be sure any fabric design is placed horizontally.) Cut 9×6 (Adult) or 7.5 x 5 (Child)
  2. Starting at the centre of the bottom edge, sew to the first corner, stop. Sew the elastic with the edge out into the corner. A few stitches forward and back will hold this.
  3. Sew to the next corner, stop, and bring the other end of the same elastic to the corner and sew a few stitches forward and back.
  4. Now sew across that top of the mask to the next corner. Again, put an elastic with the edge out.
  5. Sew to the next corner and sew in the other end of the same elastic.
  6. Sew across the bottom leaving about 1.5” to 2” open. Stop, cut the thread. Turn inside out.
  7. Pin 3 tucks on each side of the mask. Make sure the tucks are the same direction
  8. Sew around the edge of the mask twice.

Homemade Face Mask Instructions (without Elastic)

If you aren’t as handy with the sewing machine or needle, this simplified Vanderbilt University Medical Center DIY face mask method involves no elastic.

  1. Put right sides of cotton fabric together (Be sure any fabric design is placed horizontally.)
  2. Cut 9×6 (Adult) or 7.5 x 5 (Child)
  3. Starting at the centre of the bottom edge, sew to the first corner, stop. Sew the elastic with the edge out into the corner. A few stitches forward and back will hold this.
  4. Sew to the next corner, stop, and bring the other end of the same elastic to the corner and sew a few stitches forward and back.
  5. Now sew across that top of the mask to the next corner. Again, put an elastic with the edge out.
  6. Sew to the next corner and sew in the other end of the same elastic.
  7. Sew across the bottom leaving about 1.5” to 2” open. Stop, cut the thread. Turn inside out.
  8. Pin 3 tucks on each side of the mask. Make sure the tucks are the same direction
  9. Sew around the edge of the mask twice.

Homemade Face Mask Pattern

If both of those seem a little too hard to follow, fear not. Some crafty users online have released a series of handy homemade face mask patterns for you to check out. Here, we’ve put together three of the easiest and most effective free face mask patterns you can download and try at home.

Other Tips for Staying Protected

While studies showing homemade face masks completely eradicate the spread of airborne viruses are few and far between, it bears reminding that some protection is better than none. Taking the time to craft a well-made, cotton DIY face mask will better prepare you tackling the outside environment, which you should only be doing in an essential circumstance. As the Disaster Medicine and Public Health Department report stated, however, face masks and respirators, homemade or otherwise are far less effective when not paired with appropriate hygiene and safety measures. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly, wear gloves were possible and avoiding contact with foreign bodies.

The government’s strict social distancing policies are also highly effective in reducing the rate of COVID-19 contraction. Be sure to follow the spacing guidelines and only leave the house when it is essential.

Still have questions? We’ve got you covered.

General FAQ

Do homemade face mask really work?

While the science suggests that homemade and DIY face masks do not perform at the level that surgical-grade equipment does, they are effective at preventing a large number of particles from entering the lungs.

How often should you wash your homemade cloth mask?

It is critical that you take the time to regularly wash your cloth DIY face mask. to prevent germs from lying idle. Be sure to wash your mask every day, while simultaneously washing hands thoroughly.

Do you really need a face mask?

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that can easily be transmitted through touch. This means that contact with an infected surface could easily find its way into your system through breathing, so facial coverings such as face mask are highly effective in preventing the spread of the illness.