Need a face mask? It is easy to make your cloth face masks
With more and more areas seeing an increase in Coronavirus outbreaks, people are increasingly being asked to wear masks. If you don't want to splash out on the disposable varieties, you can always make your own. Here is a quick guide to constructing your own cloth masks, including sew and no-sew options.
The following article is provided for information purposes only. Care has been taken to provide accurate and up-to-date details, however, government policy and health authority advice differ between locations around Australia and the world. These, along with medical research findings, are constantly changing and being revised. It is the responsibility of the reader to check and keep up to date with the latest advice from their health authority, especially when it comes to their individual circumstance.
Why do we need to wear masks
The COVID-19 virus has been found to spread through the air contained in water droplets from our breath. Yes, it can spread other ways as well, but airborne infection is a big worry with this disease because of how survivable it is in the air. With most viruses, they will only survive in large water droplets which travel at the most 1.5 or maybe even 2 metres. Hence the social distancing distance.
However, with the COVID-19 Coronavirus, the virus has been found to survive in tiny water droplets, which can hang in the air for a longer time and travel further. This has lead to instances of one person spreading the infection in a closed space to everyone in that area. Sometimes, they have found that only people who were downwind of the air conditioning flow in a restaurant caught the disease, while everyone else was fine.
Masks can do two things to protect us. It will stop our breath carrying the virus if we are unknowingly infected. It can also stop us being infected by a virus in airborne water droplets.
Are cloth masks effective
A UK study compared a range of masks and found that P2/N95 or higher rated masks were the most effective at screening out water droplets, with surgical masks coming in second, and paper masks being last in place. Cloth masks were demonstrated to do well at stopping larger droplets but less well at finer droplets. Though this is going to depend on what the mask is made from.
Image of a simple square cloth mask courtesy of Pikist
Remember, there are a wide range of cloth masks, and you can make them in different ways out of different materials. So while they can work, we have to be careful about how effective a mask will be. For example, wrapping a bandana around your face will more effective than a paper mask, but not as effective as better constructed masks, and you wouldn't expect any of these to work as well as a certified P2/N95 mask.
What makes a good cloth mask?
The core element of a good cloth mask is layers. Surgical masks are also made of 3 layers. Whatever material you use, it will be more effective if the mask is of 2 or 3 layers.
The next issue is the fineness of the material. silk is a great material to make a mask out of, because of the fine weave, but cotton can come in a wide range of different weaves as well.
There is also the issue of water repellent and water absorption. in fact, by layering different materials with different properties you will get the best result.
The ideal mask
The recommendation for a cloth mask is to use 3 layers. The inner layer is best made of cotton, ideally with a thread count of 600 more. (Yes, you can cut up those 800 Egyptian cotton bed sheets you were given as a present). If you don't know the thread count, just hold the material up. The more transparent it is, the lower the thread count. Cotton works well because it absorbs the water from your breath, and is comfortable against your skin.
The best masks are made from the right combination of fabrics
The outer layer is best if it can repel water. So polyester is the fabric of choice. Cutting up some old business shirts could do the trick, but these are usually a cotton/polyester blend. Ideally, you want pure artificial fibres. Once again, thread count matters.
The middle layer can work as a filter and is best made with silk. The fine weave of many silks means that they are the best filtering materials. They are not going to be as effective as actual filter material, but in that case, you might want to just buy a P2/N95 mask.
You don't need to follow this exact formula, and you can substitute different materials for each layer, but you should be looking for materials that match the properties best needed for each layer.
The masks below can be made out of materials you might find at home. You can also go shopping for materials. It is not easy to find places that sell rolls of cloth any more, so you might have to shop online. There are places that sell kits for sewing your own masks. Remember, like other cloth masks you find online, the DIY kits vary in quality and effectiveness.
The no sew bandana mask
If you have a bandana or a similar-sized square of cloth, you can easily use this as a face mask. While you can just wrap a bandana around your face, cowboy style, it is possible to construct a no-sew multi-layer mask from it. To make this mask, all you need is a square of cloth, around 50 cm x 50 cm and a couple of elastic hair bands (rubber bands work as well, but they are not as comfortable).
Take your square of cloth and fold it in half from top to bottom.
Then do a 3 fold, with the top and bottom and bottom folds overlapping.
You now have a long thin 4 layers of cloth.
Take your hair bands or rubber bands and slide them over each end and position them so they are about 15 cms apart. /LI>
Fold the two sides over the bands so that they meet in the middle, and tuck them together.
To wear, put the tucked side towards your face and loop the bands over your ears. It should fan out a little to cover your face nicely.
Instructions to make a bandana mask courtesy of the CDC
You can easily sew a mask yourself. One of the easiest ones to make is done with layers of square cloth. You can hand stitch this mask, but it is easier and neater if you use a sewing machine.
To make this mask, you will need 3 squares of fabric, each around 25 x 25 cm. Ideally, the layers of materials is the same as described above, but it can be any tightly woven fabric. You will also need something to make the strings. You can use basic strings or elastic.
Place the layers on top of each other.
Start with the stop and bottom hems. Fold them, around about 1 cm each, and sew. For people new to sewing, use pins to hold the hems in place while you sew.
The side hems will be what you thread your strings through so they need to a little wider, perhaps 1.5 cms, and sewn as that there is enough of a gap to put the string through.
Put the strings through the hems and tie them so they make appropriate length loops to go over your ears.
Instructions on making a square cloth face mask courtesy of the CDC
If you are a bespectacled person, you will find that your glasses steam up when wearing a mask. One way to solve this problem is to make the top hem of the square mask thick enough to insert a piece of wire. You can then shape the wire, and hence the top of the mask, to the contours of your face. This should stop your breath steaming up your glasses.
The shaped mask
If you want to step up your mask game, you can create a mask that better matches the shape of your face. The process of making it is similar to that of a square mask, but you are going to use use a shaped mask pattern.
There are plenty of mask patterns available online, or you can just hold a piece of cloth on your face and trace the shape that you want for your mask. Many people will add a little extra space in front of their mouth to make wearing it more comfortable. Remember to go back and add additional space for the hems in your pattern. Then use that as the pattern for the other layers of fabric. Sewing the mask is then similar to the square mask.
There is no single best design for a face mask, and if you have more skill with sewing, then you might try different designs. For example, instead of threading the strings to tie your mask through the hems, you can sew them on along with the hems, or use a strip of folded cloth to make both the hem and the string.
Image of sewing hems using the same cloth for your loops courtesy of Pixabay
Another variation is to use pleats. This design will help the mask expand better to cover your face and not scrunch up while you wear it. This is similar to surgical masks in design.
Larger masks for bearded wearers
Beards can be a bit of a problem, and many a hirsute gentleman will be reluctant to shave off or even trim their manly facial growth. For the P2/N95 mask wearers, there is little choice, as those masks only work when they make a tight seal on your face. However, when making your own cloth masks, you can easily make one that is large enough to work with your beard.
Keeping your mask clean
The advantage of using a cloth mask is that you can clean it. Remember, you shouldn't wear a mask for more than 1 hour at a time, and when removed, they should go into a plastic bag until washed. So you will need several masks and rotate them regularly.
A mask made from layers of cotton, polyester and silk can only be cleaned by machine washing them. Both polyester and silk are easily damaged by hot water and bleach will damage silk. So at best, you can use warm water when you machine wash them with detergent. The idea is that any virus in the masks will be pushed out through the machines cycle and any that remain will be killed by the detergent. Detergent, like soap, is very effective against Coronavirus, because it breaks down the fatty crowns of the Coronavirus, effectively destroying it.
Masks made from cotton can be washed with hot water or even thrown into a pot of boiling water or soaked in bleach for an hour then washed. While they are more durable and easily cleaned, a 3 layer cotton mask is not as good as one that combines different materials for their various properties.
Remember to check masks after washing them to make sure there is no damage or wear and tear that might affect the integrity of the mask. A well-made cloth mask should last you for some time.
There are lots of reasons at the moment to wear masks. Not everyone in Australia needs to wear one, though many people might still choose to wear one, but if community transmission increases, we might see more and more reasons or requirements to wear a mask. Cloth masks are one option to protect us, our loved ones, and the community from Coronavirus transmission.
Making face masks is cheap, easy and effective. It can even be fun because you can choose the colours and patterns for your mask.
I like your informative articles about COVID-19. I used the pattern provided by the Victoria Department of Health, because it was simple and could be tackled with my liimited sewing skiils. I went with the three layers and made sure the fabric was a very tight weave. It's been a challenge but at least hubby and I now have a good supply of cloth masks.
Another reason for wearing a mask is that it reminds us not to touch our face. I was out shopping and had trouble finding the opening of the fine plastic bag that you put fruit and vegetables in. So I licked my fingers, as you do, to get a better grip. The instant I did that, I could have kicked myself. Had I been wearing a mask, that obviously would not have happened.
Fortunately I have not contracted the virus, but we all touch our face multiple time a day, and can spread or catch diseases in that manner.
Thank you for your article.