The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US surgeon general and the nation's top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recommend that all Americans wear face coverings when they go out in public. And seven states now require residents to use face masks when they visit essential businesses — like the grocery store or the pharmacy — or use public transportation. That guidance changes as we learn more, daily, about coronavirus, says Anna Torrens Armstrong, assistant professor and public health education concentration lead at the University of South Florida.
The general public is still advised not to buy or use N95 or surgical masks, as those remain in short supply, and needed for use by health care professionals, Torrens Armstrong says.
If you haven't already done so, you can start making your own masks. A note of caution, though: "Wearing a mask is a layer of protection, but it is not 100%," Torrens Armstrong says. "Homemade masks limit some droplet transmission, but not all. Some information has indicated that they can possibly filter out about 50%, which is better than none."
The health care researcher warns folks making their own masks not to let down their guard when it comes to other covid-19 transmission protections. "Some people might feel a sense of 'safety' while wearing a mask, and therefore relax their behaviors in a detrimental way," she says. "You must still be vigilant about what you touch, how close you get to others, removal of your mask and hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces, and limiting trips out."
Whether you know how to sew or not, making a protective mask is a project you can undertake with just a few materials you probably already have around the house. CNN Health has already published a detailed guide, with great illustrations, on how to make your own mask, so we'll just hit the high points here and move on to helping you find all the supplies you'll need, as well as some premade masks.
How to make a face mask
First of all: If you don't sew, don't worry. You can still make a mask, using some of the following items.
- Bandana, piece of T-shirt or square cotton cloth, about 20 inches by 20 inches
- Paper coffee filter
- Rubber bands or hair ties
Recommended fabrics, Torrens Armstrong says, are "tightly woven cotton. Think sheets, quilting fabrics. T-shirts or bandanas would do if you don't have any cotton sheets to spare. It needs to be breathable and comfortable against skin — avoid anything scratchy! Material that is not tightly woven would not be very effective."
Need a few more bandanas as raw material?
L.L.Bean Cotton Bandana, National Park Foundation ($14.99, originally $19.95; llbean.com)
A bonus: 20% of the purchase price goes to the National Park Foundation.
Tie-Dye Bandana ($12; urbanoutfitters.com)
This one will also be good for hiking later.
Rothco Trainmen Paisley Bandana ($9.95; amazon.com)
Available in every color of the rainbow, this bandana is miraculously still in stock, while this exceedingly popular set comes back in early June, too.
First, cut off the bottom third of a conical paper coffee filter. The addition of a coffee filter may help catch and trap additional viral particles, and provide an extra layer of protection.
Melitta Natural Brown #4 Coffee Filter, 100ct ($3.42; target.com)
Is it time for another cup of coffee, btw?
Scotch 8" Precision Scissors ($5.29; target.com)
If you don't have a pair of sanitized household scissors on hand, these are affordable and (if you're really desperate) could double for the at-home haircuts you'll be doing next.
Lay your piece of fabric down flat. Fold it in half lengthwise, creating a rectangle. Place the cut coffee filter in the center of the rectangle, lengthwise. Fold the top third of the fabric down, over the filter, and then the bottom third up, creating a long strip of folded fabric. (If you'd like some visuals, click here.) Then take two household rubber bands or hair ties.
UBrands 7.4oz Rubber Bands Assorted Sizes ($2.19; target.com)
Goody Ouchless Xtra Long Extra Thick Elastic Hair Ties, 10ct ($3.19; target.com)
Place them around the ends of the folded fabric, about 6 inches apart. Fold the sides of the fabric in toward the middle. Place the rubber bands or hair ties around your ears, as seen here. Homemade mask, done.
A note: If you're using a coffee filter, experts say that should be removed and thrown away before you wash your mask, then replaced with a new cut-off filter before each new use.
How to sew your own mask
Now if you do sew, you can make a mask that is entirely machine-washable, and that may feel more secure. Sewn masks aren't necessarily more protective, Torrens Armstrong says — what matters is that your mask "fits snugly over your nose and mouth." You'll need all the same materials from the not-sewn mask list above, plus a needle and thread and/or a sewing machine. If you'd prefer to follow illustrated instructions, click here.
Start with your same large piece of tightly woven fabric. If you want to experiment with cute patterns, there are plenty out there, like these below. Also, if you're wary about how clean a fabric sent to you may be, you can run it through the wash before building, or use a fabric sanitizer. Same goes for premade masks as well.
Mushroom Fabric Vintage Toadstools Designer Fabrics (starting at $5.28; etsy.com)
Anything to get us closer to nature.
LullabeeFabricShop Flowery Spring Floral Print (starting at $1.27; etsy.com)
A few pretty flowers on a mask can go a long way.
Fabric Scraps for Masks ($15; etsy.com)
Etsy also sells mix-and-match grab bags of fabric scraps, each of which includes at least 2 yards of fabric.
Fabricmade 47 Colors Solid Fabric ($6; etsy.com)
You can also buy a ½ yard of any color of your choice, for less than $6.
Cut your fabric of choice into two equal-sized 10-inch by 6-inch rectangles. Place one piece on top of the other. Fold over ¼ inch of the long sides, and hem both sides. You can use a simple needle and thread.
Singer 12pk Thread, Assorted Colors ($2.89; target.com)
Singer 1304 Start Essential Sewing Machine ($89.99, originally $119.99; joann.com)
You can also use a sewing machine. If you don't own one but think this might suddenly become a great quarantine hobby, here's an affordable starter that's super compact for small spaces.
Back to the mask. Fold over the short sides ½ inch, and stitch at the cut edge of the fabric, leaving enough space to thread through your elastic or rubber band that'll go over your ears.
Thread a 6-inch piece of elastic, rubber or string through the wider hems on each short side of the mask, and tie the loops at the ends — these will serve as your ear loops. Pull loops so knots are tucked inside the hems.
Gather sides of the mask and adjust to your face so that mask fits you. Then stitch the elastic or string in place across the ends of the hem so the elastic can't move around, as seen here. Sewn mask, done!
Premade face masks
If all this DIY sounds good but just isn't your bag, you can still order a mask to fit your personality. Here are a few crafted by others.
Cat on Dark Blue Fabric Face Mask, 3 Layer Face Mask with Filter Pocket ($12.90; etsy.com)
Animals are good for mental health, right?
Washable Floral Face Mask with Filter (starting at $13.20; etsy.com)
This one feels almost like a yield from a printmaking class.
Pink Face Mask (starting at $12.50; etsy.com)
This one's a soft, soothing take.
ZhenLinen Double Layer Face Mask ($14.99; etsy.com)
This double layer, washable and reusable mask comes with a pretty and subtle floral pattern, too.
AB2store 100% Cotton Adjustable Mask (starting at $8.90; etsy.com)
We're seriously into this lovely, sophisticated pattern in pastel colors.
Burgundy Cotton Face Mask with Interchangeable Filter Pocket ($10.50; etsy.com)
Filter and interchangeable filter pocket included.
Washable Reusable Mask with Filter Insert (starting at $12.99; etsy.com)
Comes in black faux leather, should that be your thing.
Removing and cleaning your face mask
Before removing your mask, wash your hands with soap and water, or sanitize them. Do not touch the front of your mask, as it may have been contaminated. Remove the mask using the ear loops.
All homemade masks should be washed after every wearing, says Torrens Armstrong — in a washing machine, in hot water, with laundry detergent.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.