How to DIY Pandemic supplies: Homemade Face Mask for Dummies

As a good survivor, you’ll want to have the skill to make your own supplies – and since there’s no need for hunting your own food yet, let’s focus on hunting the things that may be in short supply but that you’ll still need at the moment. Today, we’ll focus on one key item: protective face mask.

As you may have seen in Italy, South Korea, China, etc – face masks will be mandatory any moment now. Funny, because they’re one of the most difficult things to find at the moment – it’d be like forcing everyone to have a tan in the UK. Most likely, governments will somehow distribute them at some point if when they manage to get their s*** together and resolve the logistics. In the meantime, you should have your own – and here’s how you can do it.

  1. Understand the fabric options

In a nutshell, you want a material that filters out as many particles as possible, but that you can still breathe through it – for example, vacuum bags are great at filtering, but breathing through can be difficult – especially if you happen to have a respiratory viral disease. In general, non-woven materials work better – such as paper, tissue, or polypropylene (e.g. these groceries bags that seem halfway between fabric and paper); next thing would be densely woven fabrics such as quilting cotton and batik fabric. You should have multiple layers – and you can combine fabrics as well. See here for more information.

In any case, before sewing (especially if you don’t have a sewing machine – you want to make sure it’s right before doing the sewing work) perform 2 test: the light test and the breath test.

Light test:

Pretty dress, but not great for a face mask.

“Hold it up to a bright light; if light passes really easily through the fibers and you can almost see the fibers, it’s not a good fabric. If it’s a denser weave of thicker material and light doesn’t pass through it as much, that’s the material you want to use.”

Dr. Scott Segal, chairman of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health who recently studied homemade masks.

Breath test:

Make sure you can breathe…

When you have your desired fabric combination, and before sewing, hold it tightly against your mouth and nose and ensure you can breathe comfortably enough. If you feel that you have to make an effort to breathe, lighten up the layers or change the fabric.

You’d want a face mask that passes both tests, that doesn’t filter light but also allows you to breathe. In case of conflict, breath test is priority. Any face mask is better than nothing; but you shouldn’t make the remedy worse than the disease – if you can’t breathe through, it’s useless.

2. Choose a pattern and check you have you have everything you need

Ensure you have everything you need riiiight here.

There are tons of tutorials around. Choose the one that suits you better and before starting, make sure you have all the pieces you need.

[16/04/2020 Edit] CDC Approved non-sewing mask:

In the example above, you need 1 piece of main fabric of 24×19 cm (~9 1/2” x 7 1/2“), and 2 pieces of lining of 18 x 13 cm (~7 3/32” x 5 1/8“); you’ll also need an iron to press the fabric, some clips to hold the folds temporarily, sewing machine / thread and needle, a safety pin, and elastic (I’d say about 1 m / 3 ft to be safe). This one has a pocket for disposable non-woven fabric as well, such as dried wipes, so you’ll need that too.

3. If you don’t have something, find alternatives – and test

Unless you’re a professional tailor, it’s likely you don’t have everything on the tutorial – a sewing machine, that kind of elastic, etc. If getting them is a problem, then find alternatives, but make sure you test them first. E.g. try the rubber band from the vegetables to see if it’s comfortable enough on your ears. Test some hand sewing on a spare piece of fabric. For some reason most of the tutorials around presume you have a sewing machine as a home essential, but guess what – most of us don’t. No worries; it may take slightly longer, but we can sort it out. There are a lot of tutorials around, like this one:

The purpose of testing in a spare material is getting the right technique, and also ensuring the stitch is strong enough. From the video above, backstitch is probably the best for this.

Also you may want to play smart and superglue or staple your way out of sewing – not really recommended for this, as these stitches require precision and a soft finish and you’ll be wearing the result of your experiment on your face. Feel free to test with care, but if I were you I’d avoid gluing your fingers together and practise sewing instead.

4. Go for it!

You have the ingredients and the recipe – now it’s the time for action! See the whole video before starting, to ensure you don’t have any surprises. Don’t expect it to be perfect; if it works, it’s good enough. My advice: ensure you have enough material for at least a second try.

5. Learn how to use it

Ok, so let’s imagine you are over the I have no idea what I’m doing drama by now and you have something similar enough to a shiny new face mask – you are done here, right? Well, there are a couple things to make sure you know before you’re done with this. As all PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) it has to be used properly. In our case, it means it has to be handled, replaced and cleaned properly to be effective – otherwise it can be even worse than nothing. Tips:

  • Never touch the front of the mask to remove it, and if you do, wash your hands immediately.
Seems obvious, but after all the sewing you may want to make sure you don’t f*** up and use it properly.
  • Sterilise your mask after every use using hot water, soap and disinfectant.

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