HOW GOOD ARE HOMEMADE MASKS?
Home made masks are not as good as manufactured surgical masks, or N95s, but they can come close. A well made mask of the right fabric should work fine while shopping or in crowded places where the 6 foot distancing rule cannot be maintained. They are no substitute for hand washing and sanitizing surfaces.
REVISED: April 21, 2020
CDC now recommends wearing
face masks when in public
places, grocery shopping etc.
Supplies are limited so make
your own. I'm not an expert on
coronavirus. I'm a senior who
has been using a sewing
machine since age 3. This page
contains a summary of
information I've gathered from
the internet, friends and family
members who have sewn many
masks. Links and patterns are
What Does A Good Mask Look Like?
It should completely cover your nose and mouth. Edge of mask should rest on your skin all the way around.
WHAT’S THE BEST
FABRIC TO USE?
This is the most critical question and the one most difficult to answer. You will have to make that decision yourself. The fabrics that screen out the most airborne particles tend to be ones that are more difficult to breathe thru, so there is a tradeoff.
Common fabrics found in almost every home will work, such as T-shirts, pillowcases, kitchen hand towels. Do not use old drapes that may contain spun glass.
I saw several posts recommending cotton, but just because it is cotton does not mean it will work. Loosely knit or woven cotton (where you can see light between threads) probably won’t work. Consider using something you already have. If you purchase fabric, assume it is contaminated and wash it in a bleach and water solution before cutting and sewing.
EXPERT OPINIONS VARY:
Dr. Segal, of Wake Forest Baptist Health, who led a study, at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. “noted that quilters tend to use high-quality, high-thread count cotton. The best homemade masks in his study were as good as surgical masks or slightly better, testing in the range of 70 to 79 percent filtration. Homemade masks that used flimsier fabric tested as low as 1 percent filtration,…” from New York Times.
John Hopkins Medicine recommends 100% cotton.
Kaiser Permanente recommends, “100% cotton or cotton blend woven 6 to 8 oz (in densities similar to dress shirt or bedsheet.” and “ 100% cotton or cotton blend jersey knit 6 to 8 oz.”
Dr. Griffin, Columbia University, an expert on infectious diseases, recommends tight weave cotton and stated, "Don't use a synthetic or a polyester because …the virus's ability to survive on surfaces, and spandex is the worst,” from NPR
A study by Yang Wang, assistant professor of environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, found 4 layers did better than 2 layers, but varied by fabric type. 2 layers of 600 thread count pillow case captured 22% of particles, 4 layers captured 60%. 2 layers thick woolen yarn scarf captured 21%, 4 layers 48.8%. “A 100 percent cotton bandanna did the worst, capturing only 18.2 percent when doubled, and just 19.5 percent in four layers.” from New York Times.
(Attempting to stitch 4 layers of thick fabric on a sewing machine will probably break your needle unless you have a super duper machine . It’s been suggested that if you want 4 layers, wear 2 masks. I suspect breathing thru 4 layers of thick fabric will, at the least, feel uncomfortable. The alternative may be a coffee filter inside a 2 layer. This alternative was not studied, or not reported in the article regarding Wang’s study.)
Coffee filters, Vacuum Cleaner Bags, Air Filters, Furnace Filters, can be slipped inside a 2 layer mask to increase filtration. Doing so makes it more difficult to breath. Coffee filters are probably safe. BE CAREFUL: Do NOT USE air/heat/furnace filters and vacuum cleaner bags that contain fiberglass. Lungs full of fiberglass fragments are not better than lungs full of virus. from New York Times
CONCERNS REGARDING FABRIC CONTENT:
While 100% cotton is often recommended, most fabrics found in a home are a blend of unknown type. General rule of thumb, if it stretches then returns to original shape, it is a blend with a plastic derivative often referred to as “Spandex.” General rule of thumb, if it comes out of the dryer wrinkle free, it is a blend with a plastic derivative. “Nylon,” “Rayon,” “Poly,” “Spandex,” are all plastic derivatives. A lab study has demonstrated that the virus can survive on plastic for 7 days. (See Business Insider) But soap and water kills the virus in 5 minutes regardless of surface type. A mixture of bleach and water kills the virus in 5 minutes regardless of surface. My opinion is that, it does not matter if the fabric is cotton or cotton blend, so long as you decontaminate it immediately after use. Having made that statement, you should also know that I turned my house upside down to find 100% cotton for making my masks.
John Hopkins Medicine insists, “Fabrics must have a pattern to it. To avoid confusion with medical-grade masks, do not use blue and white patterns. Never use solid white or solid blue.” In my opinion this is important if you intend to wear the mask at a health care facility, or if you intend to donate masks to others. It is of less importance it you are the only user and wear it only while shopping at the grocery store, or doing other essential errands.
Some patterns offer sizes of materials needed. This should be considered a general rule. The important thing is fit. Your finished mask should not hang with big air pockets. It should hang as close to your skin as possible. That may mean cutting the fabric to a larger or smaller size depending on your head size (Fill in a joke about what size is needed for a swelled head, egg head, here.)
Fabrics change shape when washed, so wash before cutting. This is not a problem with fabrics found in the home that have been washed many times already; however, it’s a good idea to wash them again. You don’t want to protect yourself from COVID 19 by breathing thru something that contains invisible mold or bacteria particles.
Yes. Don’t get swept away with your creativity. Remember you have to breathe thru this. Beads add weight and may cause the mask to sag. Coronavirus can stick to plastic or metal for days. Sanitizing the mask may fade your design work. Material of the same fiber content as the mask, but in different color(s), probably a good choice.
Okay, you made a fine mask. You wear it to go shopping. Then what? If your mask did it’s job, then those particles are captured on your mask where it can survive for days. Always assume the mask is contaminated after use. Decontaminate immediately.
CDC recommends removal by touching only the ties. Do NOT touch the face of the mask. Do NOT touch eyes, nose or mouth while removing mask. Wash hands immediately after removal. I recommend placing mask in a plastic bag upon removal in order to transport it from face to decontamination. Bleach and water mixture works. Soap and water works. CDC recommends washing mask in washing machine. NYC gov. recomends using warmest setting possible on washing machine and implies that a contaminated item can be washed with non-contaminated items.
Decontaminate it before your trash it.
CDC writes, “Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.” To this I would add, touching the face of the mask is a no no. Children love to explore with their fingers. If your child, of any age, cannot wear a mask without touching it, then perhaps they should not wear one.
WHY WEAR A FACE COVERING?
Wearing one sends a reminder to all who see it to be careful.
It let’s essential workers know they need not fear you because you are being careful.
Everyone thought they didn’t have it until they were diagnosed. You are no different. This virus is highly contagious before any symptoms appear. Don’t risk transferring the virus to someone frail. Wear a mask.
Wearing a mask is like wearing a seat belt while in a car. You don’t need to buckle up, but you do it anyway, because who knows what might be encountered during the trip. Wearing a mask can prevent you from catching the virus, just like a seat belt can protect you in a crash.
LINKS TO SOURCES & RESEARCH
SEWING MACHINE MASKS
(A coffee filter could be inserted into this pattern, if desired.)
HAND STITCHED USING NEEDLE AND THREAD
NO SEWING REQUIRED