How to make a mask at home, if you don't know how to sew

Everyone is looking forward to the day, hopefully not too far away, when we can venture out from our apartments and start to get back to normal activities. 

But “normal” is going to look quite different. Until a vaccine is developed, social distancing measures along with meticulous hand washing and hygiene practices are going to be very important in order to prevent the transmission of the virus in the community.

One thing you will have noticed on your essential trips out of the house is the sharp increase in the number of people wearing face masks.

In some parts of the world, people wearing facemasks in crowded public places is commonplace, but here in Europe it’s an unfamiliar sight. The CDC and the WHO have now started to recommend using one.

Front-line workers, especially medical staff and anyone else in close contact with the public, need the highest-quality N95 particulate respirators. These clean the air as you breath to protect the wearer from infectious particles like coronavirus.

Unfortunately, the huge surge in demand caused by the pandemic has resulted in worldwide shortages of this vital PPE, leaving medical workers vulnerable. Understandably, governments are re-directing any stocks of N95 masks to their health services, meaning that it’s impossible for ordinary people to buy them at the moment. 

Instead, many people are using their ingenuity to make their own masks. Homemade masks can help to stem transmission of the virus in several ways. Firstly, they protect others because they limit the spread of respiratory droplets from breaths, coughs or sneezes so they don’t land on other people or surfaces.

Masks also prevent the wearer from touching their face – the main way the virus finds its way from surfaces into the body. If you want to know more about the science of how masks help prevent transmission, check out this video.

Even if it were possible to buy a disposable mask, they don’t come in sizes suitable for children – another good reason to make your own. 

One way for a homemade mask even more effective is to make it with a little pocket that can hold a filter. A filter made from non-woven fibres can offer almost as much protection from small particles like viruses as an N95 mask. They’re hard to find in shops at the moment but you can buy them online, here.

If you’re good at sewing, there are many online tutorials with detailed instructions for how to make all kinds of masks. But if that seems a bit too difficult, here are instructions for a super-simple mask with a pocket for a filter that you can make without sewing a single stitch. First, gather the things you’ll need:

  • A large cotton handkerchief or fabric cut from t-shirt (100% cotton recommended) about 50cm x 50cm approx.
  • Two elastic hair ties (or, failing that, rubber bands)
  • A filter made from non-woven fibres.

Step 1: Cut filter to appropriate size. 

Step 2: Lay the handkerchief out flat in front of you and fold it down in half on the horizontal axis. 

Step 3: Place it in the centre of the handkerchief so that it takes up the middle section, leaving fabric above and below. Fold fabric above the filter down so that it covers the filter, then do the same with the fabric below the filter, folding it up over the filter. The filter should now be covered by the fabric.

Step 4:  Pull an elastic hair tie over each side of the folded fabric, so that they are about one third of the way in from the edge of the fabric. The two hair ties should be about one hand-width apart. 

Step 5: Fold the ends of the fabric across towards the centre, tucking one flap into the other. 

Step 6: Your mask is ready! Make sure it fits snugly over the bridge of your nose and reaches down under your chin. 

It’s important to remember that masks have to be used properly to be effective. Avoid touching the outer surface of the mask while you’re wearing it or when you take it off. Always change the filter and wash the mask after each use. 

It may take some getting used to, but the sooner we can adapt to new practices of social distancing, frequent hand-washing and wearing face masks, the sooner we can get back to some kind of normality.