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Last Updated 4.8.20
With the danger of the recent coronavirus outbreak expanding, it’s getting hard to find a medical mask in stores. Professional disease fighting organizations recommend N95 grade material (which blocks 95% of particles .3 microns or larger), so there's no guarantee that less dense fabric will provide protection, but face coverings of any kind can help stop the spread of this disease.
Masks are a good way to contain your own germs if you’re feeling under the weather—reducing the risk of spreading said germs to others—and many wear masks to protect themselves against the germs of others. Non-medical grade masks have limited ability to protect their wearers from other people, but they can still be effective at preventing droplets from the person wearing one from reaching others.
Restrictive masks, even cloth coverings, should not be worn by children under two years old, or on anyone with difficulty breathing or physical incapacitation that would prevent them from removing it.
The most basic face covering is the classic folded bandanna, but you can get more control by adding straps as described below. Ideally, your face covering should fit snugly, cover your mouth and nose completely, stay in place without being touched, include several layers, allow easy breathing, and hold up to laundering.
If you're worried that your material isn't thick enough, you can conduct a simple test by holding it in front of a bright light to see how much comes through.
Face Mask Method One: Furnace Filters
Step 1 - Find a Filter
Check the labeling if you can. Some furnace filters are specifically designed to stop viruses.
Step 2 - Determine the Sides
If there's an arrow on one side of the material, that's the side to label as "inside."
Step 3 - Remove Cardboard and Wire
These heavier elements will get in your way and could cause discomfort or injury.
Step 4 - Measure and Cut
Divide the material into seven inch squares.
Step 5 - Add Structure
Sew a sturdy pipe cleaner or twist tie along the top edge.
Step 6 - Pleat Sides
Scrunch the sides down to four inches and pleat them in place so the center is the full seven and the sides are four.
Step 7 - Add Earloops
Cut two six inch pieces of elastic and sew two edges of the filter closed around them to make ear loops.
Method Two: Old Clothes
They're much less protective than furnace filters, but on the plus side, upcycling an old garment should be easy and cheap. A cotton t-shirt is best for this project and it should be clean before completing the project.
Step 1 - Measure Your Fabric
First, lay the t-shirt flat and measure a piece that is eight by 12 inches in size. Mark it with a pencil, chalk, or marker.
Step 2 - Cut The Fabric
Cut the fabric along the lines you marked. This isn’t going to be a fancy end result, so don’t worry if your cut isn’t perfectly straight!
Step 3 - Fold the Fabric
Next, fold the fabric into thirds.
Step 4 - Measure Shoelaces or String
Use either shoelaces or some type of string that will be comfortable around your ears. Once you decide on the string type, measure the length that will comfortably fit around your ears. Cut the material to the desired length. You’ll need two pieces that are equal length, which is why shoelaces make a good candidate for this job.
Step 5 - Insert the String
Now, insert the string or laces so that each end is tucked into one of the sides of the fabric along the short sides. Once stitched up, these will slip over your ears to hold the mask on your face. If desired, you could also lay each lace or string across the top and bottom of the mask length wise so that the ends stick out, allowing you to tie the mask around your head to wear it. This is based on personal preference.
Step 6 - Sew the Mask Shut
Sew the four sides of your mask shut, securing the string or laces in place. Again, this doesn’t have to be perfect and can be in whatever color thread you have on hand.
Step 7 - Make Additional Masks
You may want to make additional masks so that you have back ups when you are washing a mask after wearing them. To increase effectiveness, masks should be washed daily and after each time they get wet.
Method Three: Layered Gauze
If you have some medical gauze around your home, you can layer two or more sections and sew them together (approximately 18x22cm should be a good size). Your seams should be about a centimeter from the top and the bottom.
Elastic bands make good ear pieces—you can sew them into the sides when you close the fabric together.
If you'd like, you can add something firm but flexible, like a small strip of plastic or metal (a paper-clip, for example) in between the layers in the center. This can help you create some shape so the mask doesn't stick too closely to your nose.
Method Four: Scarves
Another way to create a makeshift mask is quite simple. Again, there’s no guarantee that this method will be as effective as a store bought medical face mask, but it certainly can’t hurt. Wear a scarf—preferably one made of somewhat breathable fabric.
Layer the scarf around your neck as many times as the length of the accessory allows. Pull the scarf up over your mouth, providing coverage similar to a traditional face mask. This is a simple way to work against the spread of germs without much work or the need for a visit to the drug store, which is a nice perk.
Whether you use a store bought mask, make your own, or simply use a scarf, staying healthy and germ free is important to everyone. Do what you can to protect yourself and others, especially during times of increased illnesses going around your community.
Whatever you choose, make sure to clean your face mask regularly.
Myriad medical organizations have created their own guides for creating masks, including the United States Centers for Disease Control, Johns Hopkins, and Kaiser Permanente.