How to Make Your Own Face Mask for Coronavirus Protection

Here's how to make an expert-approved DIY face mask to limit the spread of coronavirus and protect yourself from Covid-19.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged all Americans to cover their faces when they are in public spaces to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus. The internet is abuzz with DIY face mask tutorials, and many good samaritans are making masks en masse to help slow the spread of Covid-19.

When it comes to homemade masks, remember, they don’t have to be perfect. “Perfection is the enemy of good,” says David Mushatt, MD, MPH, head of the infectious diseases section at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. “Your mask just has to be something over your face that can catch the larger droplets that people exhale when they cough, sneeze and talk.”

This move is designed to help lower the risk of spreading Covid-19, not eliminate it altogether, he adds.

DIY Masks: An Overview

The CDC suggests that homemade masks fit snugly but comfortably and be secured with ties or ear loops. In addition, they should include multiple layers of fabric and not impair breathing.

The CDC offers some sew and no-sew DIY mask tutorials. One example calls for a T-shirt and scissors. To craft a mask:

  • Cut 7- or 8-inches across the bottom of the shirt (both front and back). This results in a rectangle.
  • Cut out a 6- or 7-inch rectangle within the original.
  • Remove and discard the cut-out, and then cut the tie strings at the ends so they can be fastened.

That’s it. You now have a mask with strings that can be tied over your head and around your neck.

Get Creative with Your DIY Mask

Karen McGrath, a mom of two in Ronkonkoma, New York, made face masks for first responders after 9-11 and is now back at it with a passion. She broke out her sewing machine and has made 200 so far that she plans to distribute where they are needed most. She uses flannel to make filters within her masks, providing multiple layers. They are not meant to be used in place of N95 respirator masks, but they can be used on top of them, she says.

If you are not even slightly crafty, that’s OK too, says Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “A scarf is fine and so is a T-shirt,” he says. The less porous the fabric, the better, he adds. “Thicker fabrics are better than thin ones.”

It’s also a good idea to find a mask you can wear without irritating your face, as masks are the new normal and will be for the foreseeable future. “Masks…don’t leave home without them.”

DIY Masks May Work Better Than No Masks

Homemade masks and scarves are not fail-safe and they do pose some risks, Dr. Mushatt says. “Your mask can be contaminated on the outside so if you touch it and touch your eye, you can become infected,” he explains. “Clean your hands every time you touch your mask or take it off.” What’s more, some tiny aerosol droplets can get through some surfaces, he says.

An April 2020 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that cotton and surgical masks are ineffective in blocking the transmission of Covid-19 via cough droplets from infected patients. Further research is warranted to determine whether face masks can actually reduce the spread of Covid-19 from those without symptoms or those with Covid-19 who are not coughing.

Until then, a DIY mask may be better than no mask. “Don’t let your guard down,” Dr. Mushatt cautions. “Clean your hands and try and stay six feet away from others, and don’t go out too much if you can avoid it.”

Key considerations for novice mask makers include material, fit, breathability and care. Don’t use HEPA filters from a vacuum to make a mask, Dr. Mushatt warns. “Human breath is weaker than a vacuum’s force and if you try to use a vacuum bag, you could suffocate.”

It’s also important that your mask fit correctly, he says. “If it is too loose or has too many gaps, air can get in through the sides.”

When to Clean Your Mask

Cleaning your mask is another consideration, Dr. Horovitz adds. “If you are walking outside and didn’t see anyone and your home is clean, you don’t need to wash it, but if you have been touching the mask then it’s a good idea.” Regular machine washing should do the trick, he says. (Make sure you’re cleaning your washer regularly, too.)

Dr. Mushatt says plastic masks can be cleaned with disinfectant wipes or bleach.

Next up: Our guide to cooking, cleaning and making the most of staying inside

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