Masks4SG is a TaFF initiative in support with Masks Sewn With Love project organised as part of the People’s Association Women’s Integrated Network Council.
Fabric masks are quickly becoming a hot topic for communities looking to prevent the uncontrolled spread of pathogens. For people not at high-risk, or working at the frontline of the battle against Covid-19, homemade fabric masks can be a good alternative for individuals in low-risk environments.
However, there remains little consensus among authorities and no current universal standards for homemade and/or fabric masks. While there are many different opinions on how to make fabric masks, there has come to light some pertinent information on recommended materials and best practices. We have gathered the information here. We have also included two of our own mask patterns and instructions on how to make them at home.
*Disclaimer: The face masks produced from these instructions are not meant to replace the surgical face mask, it is a contingency plan for those who have no avail to surgical mask in the market. Proper use of a surgical mask is still the best way to prevent virus infection. The decision to use this mask is solely your own.
What kind of materials are best for homemade masks?
The ideal material for a mask should offer protection, but also enable breathability.
Unfortunately, there is currently no universal consensus on the efficacy of different household materials against the Covid-19 coronavirus. However, from various sources, top candidates for ideal materials to make fabric masks out of are: high quality 100% cotton plain-weave fabric1, dishtowels, and tea-towels. Research shows that all fabric masks need to have at least two layers to be even comparably effective in blocking particles.
Cotton t-shirts are not an ideal option for cut and sew masks, as jersey knits can stretch and result in gaps in the fabric through which particles can pass.
Dr Scott Segal, from Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina who recently studied homemade masks, suggests a ‘light test’ to see if materials are suitable. By holding materials up to a bright light, one can determine if a material is dense enough to be effective. Denser weaves that do not easily let light pass through are the preferable choice2. The same tests done by Dr Segal showed promising results for homemade masks using two layers of ‘quilting fabric’, which are typically high-quality, high-thread-count cotton. The best masks in the study tested in the range of 70 – 79% filtration. (Meanwhile, masks made out of flimsy fabric tested as low as 1% filtration.)3
What about filters?
Note: There has been no official testing of publicly-available filters proving efficacy against the Covid-19 coronavirus. However there are a
number of options out there on the market. Here are some important considerations:
To provide some context:
- The N95 respirator filters out at least 95 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns.4
- A typical surgical mask — a rectangular piece of pleated fabric with elastic ear loops — has a filtration efficiency
ranging from 60 to 80%.5
A study at Missouri University of Science and Technology showed that allergy-reduction HVAC filters worked the best – capturing 89% of particles with one layer and 94% with two layers. A furnace filter captured 75% with two layers, but 95% with six layers.6
To find a similar filter to those tested, look for an MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of 12 or higher, or a microparticle performance rating of 1900 or higher.6
But take caution: uncertified air filters, especially if used incorrectly, could potentially shed small fibres risky to inhale. 6 Also, an increased number of layers might increase filtration, but might result in discomfort and reduced breathability.
What kind of pattern is best to make masks?
There are currently many homemade mask patterns available on the internet. We have developed and tested two patterns here for you to choose from: the simple Pleated Face Mask, and the more customized Fitted Face Mask.
Usage & Care
How should I take care of my homemade mask?
Research shows that, improper handling, reuse, and lack of cleaning of a cotton face mask may increase rates of infection7. The USA CDC recommends regularly washing your homemade mask after each use8.
Here are some DO’s and DON’Ts in using and caring for your homemade mask9:
- Properly wash and dry any fabric mask before first use
- Rotate usage between several reusable masks
- Wash the mask with soap and hot water in between uses
- Dry the mask thoroughly before use
- Place mask carefully to cover mouth and nose and tie securely to minimize any gaps between the face and the mask
- Remove the mask by the straps or ear bands and not the surface
- Wash your hands with soap and water after removal or whenever you inadvertently touch a used mask
- Share masks with others
- Touch the surface of the mask
- Wear a damp or wet mask
- New York Times: What’s the Best Material for a Mask?
- Cambridge: Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic
- BMJ Open: COVID-19, shortages of masks and the use of cloth masks as a last resort.
- HSA Guide to masks and respirators
- Business Insider: Using blue shop towels in homemade face masks can filter particles 2x to 3x better than cotton, 3 clothing designers discover after testing dozens of fabrics
- NBC News: Making your own face mask? Some fabrics work better than others, study finds
- NPR: Coronavirus FAQs: Is A Homemade Mask Effective? And What’s The Best Way To Wear One?
- CNet: Homemade face masks and coronavirus prevention: Everything you need to know
- CNN: How to make your own face mask
1-6. Parker-Pope, T. (2020). What’s the Best Material for a Mask?. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 7 April 2020,from https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-homemade-mask-material-DIY-face-mask-ppe.html
7. R MacIntyre, C., Seale, H., Dung, T., Hien, N., Nga, P., & Chughtai, A. et al. (2015). A cluster randomised trial of cloth masks compared with medical masks in healthcare workers. BMJ Open, 5(4), e006577-e006577. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006577
8. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Retrieved 7 April 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html.
9. World Health Organisation. (2020). Advice on the use of masks the community, during home care and in health care settings in the context of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/documents/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-2019-ncov.pdf
*Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives. Please remember that use of face masks is not intended to replace other recommended measures to stop the community spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, washing your hands and refraining from touching your face. Follow the latest advice of the Ministry of Health and your own health care professionals as to how best to keep yourself safe.