As more information about the coronavirus pandemic develops, some of the information in this story may have changed since it was last updated. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit the online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department.
Making a DIY face mask has become the top stay-home activity during the novel coronavirus outbreak – whether it's for your own personal use or to donate to healthcare facilities. The CDC now recommends wearing a face covering any time you go out in public. On top of that, medical face masks for healthcare workers are running dangerously low due to the rapid increase of COVID-19 patients filling up hospitals and the fact that many consumers purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep at home.
Hospitals are asking for donations of N-95 respirators (the CDC-recommended masks for healthcare professionals working with infectious patients). But these efforts aren't enough to keep up with the demand for N-95 masks, so businesses and good samaritans are taking it upon themselves to sew masks for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers working on the front lines of the novel coronavirus.
The PPE supply has become such a crisis that hospital workers are turning to social media to ask for hand-sewn surgical masks. Facebook groups, YouTube channels, and Instagram accounts are popping up with crafters banding together to figure out how to make homemade masks and get them in the hands of healthcare professionals. If you own a sewing machine, you can join this movement — but there are some important facts you need to know first.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab reached out to medical professionals, sewing experts, and fabric suppliers to pull together everything you need to know about making face masks at home, from sewing tutorials with a fabric pattern to guidelines from hospitals.
Do fabric face masks actually work?
Yes and no. They're not as effective as N-95 masks for people treating COVID-19 patients in hospitals. That being said, they're still useful because hospitals are completely running out of masks altogether. The CDC advises using N-95 masks for the best protection, but it says to use a bandana or scarf as a last resort if the hospital-approved masks are not available. Unfortunately we're at that point in this pandemic, so homemade masks are being made to replace bandanas and scarves.
The homemade versions are also being worn on top of N-95 masks to help them last longer. These masks are being rationed wherever they're still available. Even though they're made for single use, hospital workers are being told to rewear the same N-95 mask for days or even weeks at a time.
If you or someone you know has any N-95 masks, hospitals are urging you to donate or sell them. The CDC doesn't recommend the use of N-95 masks for anyone other than healthcare professionals working directly with patients.
If you're looking for a mask for yourself or others that are not treating COVID-19 patients, the CDC says homemade cloth masks can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. These fabric masks can help protect you in places like the grocery store or pharmacy where it's harder to keep a safe six-foot distance from other shoppers. This works best if everyone wears them because people who don't have any symptoms can still be spreading the virus.
What's the best material for a reusable face mask?
The best fabric for homemade masks is a tightly woven, 100% cotton fabric. Things like bed sheets, curtains, and woven shirts are good options if they're made entirely out of cotton. If you're going to donate the masks, we recommend avoiding knit fabrics (e.g. jersey T-shirts) because they create holes when they stretch, which the virus could get through. Make sure to prewash fabrics using hot water to kill germs and to pre-shrink the material so it doesn't change shape after healthcare workers wash it themselves.
On top of a sewing machine and fabric, you'll need a nonwoven interface for reusable masks to help block out particles, elastic or ties to keep it secure on the face, and a metal piece (like a paper clip) to make it fit snugly around the nose. If you can't find an interface, you can substitute a nonwoven product like HVAC filters or coffee filters, but remember that these shouldn't be used for donations if they're not washable. HEPA vacuum bags are also nonwovens with good filtration capabilities; just make they don't contain fiberglass.
If you have clothing or bedding items at home that are in good condition, you can use these instead of having to buy new fabric. On top of that, JOANN stores are donating precut fabric to anyone who wants to make masks. All 860 stores are offering the materials in their classrooms with sewing machines, which the company says will follow social distancing recommendations. You can also call the store to have the supplies brought out to your car for curbside pickup if you have a sewing machine at home and prefer to not enter the store.
There's also been buzz around polyester shop towels (normally used by auto-mechanics) after a group of seamstresses said they can filter particles better than other at-home face mask materials. These haven't been tested by medical labs at this point and aren't yet recommended by the CDC, so you can certainly stick with tightly woven cotton fabric along with two layers of a nonwoven interface. HEPA vacuum bags have also been a popular choice because of their
Will hospitals accept homemade masks?
Homemade masks technically are not hospital-approved, so some hospitals won't accept the donations directly. Check with local hospitals in your area to see if they can use your homemade masks and if so, what their policies are for dropping them off. Because this is a rapidly changing situation, hospitals are continuing to update policies.
Otherwise, healthcare professionals are making requests on social media. MasksForHeroes uses an Instagram account to post PPE requests from healthcare workers. It says some hospitals have given permission to send the requests, but other posts from individual employees may be anonymous. The U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health is also compiling lists of hospitals by state that are accepting homemade masks, including instructions for dropping them off. On top of that, clothing subscription service Wantable will give you a free label to send them your masks, which they will distribute to hospitals and first responders.
Keep in mind: it's not just hospitals that need face masks. Healthcare workers in other facilities like nursing homes and urgent care centers are also dealing with mask shortages while working with COVID-19 patients. Even non-healthcare workers like veterinarians and firefighters are left without face masks and have said they would accept homemade versions.
How do I make a homemade face mask?
We worked with Amanda Perna, fashion designer and Project Runway alum, who started sewing and donating face masks after she had to temporarily close her fashion studio due to the coronavirus outbreak. Amanda has been working tirelessly to make as many masks as possible and recruiting seamstresses to join her efforts. We also reached out to some of our top-tested cotton sheet brands like Parachute, Brooklinen, Gryphon, Garnet Hill, Cuddledown, and Authenticity50, and they have generously committed to donating fabric for this cause.
If you're looking for a no-sew version to wear yourself, check out Amanda's quick and easy DIY instructions using supplies you already have at home. Otherwise, here is her step-by-step guide to sewing medical face masks, including a fabric pattern you can print at home:
- Print pattern (If you don't have a printer, it's a 9x8-inch rectangle with 1-inch peats)
- Cut pattern out
- Use pattern to cut 2 cotton fabric pieces
- Use pattern to cut 2 interfacing pieces (MUST be nonwoven)
- Place cut fabric with front sides together
- Place both layers of the interfacing together on top of fabric (on the back side of fabric)
- Sew top 9” seam (2.5-3 stitch length is best) with ¼” seam allowance
- Flip open with front side of fabric up
- Press seam flat to one side
- Insert metal piece along seam between the 2 pieces of fabric
- Stitch ½” rectangle that is indicated at top of pattern (with wrong sides together) to secure metal piece
- Flip back to right sides together, stitch bottom 9” seam
- Flip back to right side out and press bottom seam
- Use pattern to help mark pleats. Pleat the 3 pleats all in the same direction, put a pin to keep them in place
- Cut binding tape at 36” per side
- Find the center point of the binding and the center point of the mask and pin the binding on the mask with the mask sandwiched between the binding
- Sew binding
- Repeat on the other side of the mask
- Press pleats
- Finally, pat yourself on the back, because you are making a difference!
Check out the video above to see Amanda's step-by-step instructions in action.
You Might Also Like