All homemade face masks are better than no mask.

Safe Distancing

During the outbreak of coronavirus disease COVID-19 pandemic, severe shortage of surgical face masks and respirators are common worldwide, Meanwhile, hand sanitizers are also flying off the shelves just as fast.

Finally, both WHO and CDC have changed their stance of discouraging non-medical masks (homemade face masks) for general public. For medical masks (surgical and procedure masks) and respirators (N95), they remain prioritized for health care workers.

Update: Although the supply and price of disposable face masks have been stabilized in many parts of the world, please refrain from buying them if there’s a shortage in your community. Instead, buy the reusable face masks only when not in short supply, or make them at home.

Now, we should protect ourselves and the people around us with homemade face masks whenever leaving home. Although movement restriction has been relaxed, we’ll still be wearing face masks for a long time as it takes months and years, if ever, to develop an effective vaccine.

The following videos are some of the most popular non-medical face masks that we can learn to make them while working from home.

Face Covering with Home Materials by US Surgeon General

On 4 April 2020, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams had demonstrated how to make simple face covering by using:

  1. cloth (old scarf, bandana or old t-shirt)
  2. rubber bands

It takes only a few seconds to make a face covering. “It’s that easy!” said US Surgeon General. Based on standard surgical face mask dimensions (17.5 cm W x 9.5 cm L), the cloth size should be at least 35 cm W x 38 cm L before folding.

Face covering is perfect for people who need to protect their mouth and nose quickly using existing cotton materials at home. However, some people may have difficulty in breathing through face covering with 8 layers of cloth.

Protective Gear by University of Hong Kong – Shenzhen Hospital

The scientists in University of Hong Kong – Shenzhen Hospital, Professor Alvin Lai, Dr. Joe Fan and Dr. Iris Li, have designed a simple way to make protective gear with cheap and commonly available materials as shown below:

  1. Kitchen towels
  2. Thick facial tissue
  3. Plastic-coated wire
  4. Rubber bands
  5. Adhesive tape (2″ wide) or staple
  6. Spectacles (or the one you’re wearing)
  7. Transparent plastic file folder
  8. Binder clips

The tools are:

  1. Scissors
  2. Hole puncher

It takes only 8 steps and 5 minutes to make this DIY protective gear. The last step makes unique among homemade face masks: plastic face shield.

The good thing about this gear is that it protects not only our eyes, but also as a 2nd layer of defense for mouth and nose. For outdoor activities, you may consider a more fashionable sun visor.

Safest Face Mask with HEPA Filter by Dr. Ryan Southworth

Dr. Ryan Southworth, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and emergency medical services medical director, believes that the best homemade face mask is by using High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter vacuum bag. He credits his wife for figuring out how to make the mask with the following materials:

  1. HEPA vacuum bag
  2. Hot Glue gun with glue stick
  3. Pipe cleaners
  4. Elastic
  5. Thread

The tools are:

  1. Pencil
  2. Scissors
  3. Sewing machine
  4. Template

HEPA filters remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles of 0.3 μm in diameter. By comparison, N95 respirators remove at least 95%. Dr. Southworth design could easily be the safest face mask made at home.

This type of mask is life saving for high-risk areas like medical facilities or crowded areas. On the other hand, some people may find it very uncomfortable to breath through HEPA filter.

The same instructions in printout format is available here.

Protective Face Masks for Hospitals & Medical Clinics by JOANN

Joann Fabric has initiated a make-to-give face mask project for US medical personnel. With the help of volunteers, the goal is to donate 100 million fabric face masks. To achieve this goal, Joann Fabric creates a tutorial video on making the mask from materials in fabric stores:

  1. Cotton fabric (at least 12” x 9”)
  2. Light weight fusible interfacing (12” x 9”)
  3. Knit elastic (1/4″)
  4. Thread

The tools are:

  1. Pencil
  2. Scissors
  3. Ruler
  4. Paper
  5. Sewing machine
  6. Pins

Note that Mary uses fusible interfacing to keep the cotton fabric in shape. Simply place the bumpy side of the fusible interfacing on the wrong side of the cotton fabric. Press them with iron for 10-15 seconds and they’re glued together without sewing. The cotton fabric is stiffer now and it won’t overstretched.

Although this cloth face mask is not as effective as medical face mask, it’s environmental friendly because it’s reusable. It’s also a noble way to keep the medical workers safe.

The ready-made reusable cotton face masks are available here.

Reusable Face Masks with Filter Pocket by Maker’s Habitat

Maker’s Habitat from Malaysia has been included in US grassroot movement website, #GetUsPPE, to address the severe shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  Inspired by Taiwanese doctor Dr Chen Guanting, Ching Ng, the founder of Maker’s Habit, has created a tutorial video on making a simple fabric mask with filter pocket:

  1. Main fabric (24 cm x 19 cm)
  2. Lining (2 pieces) (18 cm x 13 cm)
  3. Non-woven fabric (polypropylene)
  4. Thread
  5. Elastic

The tools:

  1. Iron
  2. Sewing machine
  3. Clips
  4. Safety pins

#GetUsPPE has recommended ties over elastic because some people may experience pain after wearing for hours. Filter layer is optional but preferable since it can block the spread of droplets from coughs and sneezes.

The filter layer should be a melt-blown fabric which is also the same filter material used in the middle layer of surgical face mask. Like disposable face mask, the filter layer should be discarded after using once.

The ready-made reusable cotton face masks with disposable filter are available here.

The Best Homemade Face Mask for Protection

In general, paper face masks are easier and faster to make but they have to be discarded after using once due to contamination. On the other hand, cloth face masks require sewing or stitching skills but they are reusable and environmental friendly. In any case, we should never compete with health care workers for medical masks and respirators. If they can’t do their job because of insufficient face mask supply, then we’re all in deep trouble when infected.

As advised by WHO, wearing face mask is only one of the preventive measures. We should also adopt other preventive measures like hand hygiene, safe distancing, disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces and so on for total protection. Ask Alexa for more information on these advices.

Stay safe and be socially responsible.

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