As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the planet, it’s important to practice social distancing as much as possible. When you have to go near others, however, as most of us must now and then, protective gear such as a face mask can help keep you from spreading your germs to others and vice versa.
N-95 respirators and surgical masks are the best masks for filtering out small particles like the COVID-19 virus, but they are in short supply and are needed in hospitals and other healthcare facilities to keep patients and healthcare professionals safe from the virus. Luckily, however, there are other face mask alternatives that you can make from items you probably already have at your disposal. This way, you can protect yourself and others at least partially (and remind yourself not to touch your face) without taking valuable resources from where they’re needed.
Please note that a homemade face mask will not make you immune to COVID-19. Face masks help keep the tiny droplets you breathe out from getting very far, but they will not filter all incoming germs. The coronavirus is a very small particle—only about 0.1 micrometers in diameter—and can get through most fabrics, so no matter what type of fabric you’re using and how many layers, you should still do your best to distance yourself from others.
Some materials are better than others for filtration purposes. Ideally, the fabric you choose will have a tight weave, and you’ll be able to fold it so you have multiple layers. Some of the best fabrics for this project are flannel, heavyweight batik quilting cotton, denim, bamboo, duck cloth, silk, linen, canvas, or twill, but always check that the weave is tight so that you can’t see light through it (at least when folded). Avoid knit fabrics, as the stitches tend to be larger. You may also want to add a filter inside your mask to make it more effective. You can test the effectiveness of the material you’ve chosen by trying to blow out a candle through it.
To create your own face mask, you may either cut and sew material into the shape of a mask using a tutorial like this one or follow our instructions for an easy no-cut no-sew face mask using a scarf.
All you’ll need for your no-cut no-sew face mask is a scarf or bandana and three hair ties. You can get creative with substitutions too—if you don’t have these supplies, try using a tea towel and rubber bands or string. We’ve all got to be innovative during this difficult time when we’re supposed to stay home as much as possible.
Once you have your materials, watch the video below to see how to make them into a homemade face mask. There are step-by-step written instructions below the video if you prefer to follow along that way.
These are the step-by-step instructions for a large scarf:
1. Fold the scarf
Fold the scarf into a rectangle wide enough to cover your mouth and nose and long enough to go around your head with a little left over. The number of folds may be different for each scarf depending on its original size and shape.
2. Place your hair ties
Loop one hair tie over either end of the scarf, positioning them near the center of the scarf a few inches apart from one another.
3. Tie the scarf around your neck
Put the scarf around your neck right-side-up with the two ends in front. Use the third hair tie to secure the two ends of the scarf together.
4. Turn it around
Turn the scarf 180 degrees around your neck so that the ends are behind your head.
5. Put it on
Pull the front of the mask up over your nose and mouth and pull the two hair ties over your ears.
6. Secure it tightly
Pull the two ends of the scarf away from each other behind your head to force the third hair tie closer to your head. This will make the mask tighter for a more secure fit.
If you’re using a bandana or a smaller square scarf, here are the step-by-step instructions for creating your mask. You’ll only need two hair ties for this style.
1. Fold the bandana
Start by laying your bandana or square scarf out on a table. If your scarf has a front and a back, make sure you place it face-down on the table. Fold the top and bottom into the center to meet each other.
2. Fold again
Now fold the new top and bottom into the center one more time.
3. Place your hair ties
Loop your hair ties around the bandana and position them one-third of the way in from the ends so that they separate the bandana into three equal sections.
4. Fold one more time
Fold the two ends of the bandana into the middle, tucking one slightly into the other.
5. Put on your mask
Now your hair ties should be at the outside edges of your mask. Place the mask over your nose and mouth and pull the hair ties over your ears. In order to make it tighter or looser, you can take the mask back off and adjust how far into the center the ends are folded.
Now that you’ve made your mask, it’s time to get the fit right. Make sure you tighten your mask enough so that it is still comfortable but there is very little space between the edge of the mask and your skin on the top and bottom. You want to be breathing through your mask, not around the edges. Your nose might get in the way of achieving a tight seal at the top of your mask, but you can add a pipe cleaner or wire to the inside of your mask at the top in order to be able to form the mask to the curves of your face.
Don’t forget to try the candle test to make sure your mask is doing a good job. Also remember to wash it regularly to help prevent the spread of germs!
If you’d like to use one of the GreaterGood scarves from this video for your face mask, you can purchase them—plus some others that may work well for you—at one of the links below.
- Atitlan Ikat Woven Scarf
- Enchanted Sky Guatemalan Scarf
- Classic Cotton Crinkle Scarf
- Tribal Print Soft Tones Scarf
- Northern Lights Cotton Scarf
- American Flag Bandana
- All Over Puzzle Twill Scarf
- Chuwila Woven Cotton Scarf
- Living Color Bamboo Wrap
This fair-trade cotton scarf is hand-woven by Mayan women in Guatemala. It comes in pink or blue.
This handmade rayon scarf is fairly traded from an all-woman co-op in Guatemala and comes in peach, purple, or teal.
This fair-trade cotton scarf was handmade and hand-dyed in India. There are 8 colors available.
This square cotton tassel scarf comes in either turquoise or pink. It is handmade and fairly traded from India.
This colorful fair-trade item is handmade in India and is 100% cotton.
This square cotton-polyester blend bandana is proudly made in the U.S.A. It’s available in three patriotic patterns.
This thick and colorful scarf is made from 100% viscose and hails from India.
This fair-trade cotton scarf was made on a traditional backstrap loom by Guatemalan weavers and is available in blue or red.
This fair-trade bamboo wrap was handmade in Guatemala and comes in three colors.
Happy mask-making! Stay safe out there!