DIY Masks

DIY Masks

The CDC has been reconsidering their recommendation on the use of non-medical masks among the general public (see NPR article). To preserve surgical masks for professionals, I’ve shared some links to patterns and instructions for making your own mask below. I also added some information about what type of materials are recommended.

*If you choose to make a mask, make sure that you keep it clean. There isn’t an official recommendation but keep in mind that bacteria grows in moist environments and the science is still out on whether COVID-19 can survive on fabric (or how long). Also, wash your hands after taking it off.


To make a mask, you’ll need the following:

  • Tightly woven fabric –see below for more information
  • Scissors
  • Ribbon / Elastic / String
  • Marking pen
  • Needle or Sewing Machine
  • Sewing pins
  • Thread
  • Iron (optional)

The Stanford Anesthesia Informatics and Media Lab has shared a table of materials you can use for non-medical masks, ranked by effectiveness:

Effectiveness of Non-surgical Mask Materials
Effectiveness of Non-surgical Mask Materials from the Stanford Anesthesia Informatics and Media Lab


Basically, you want to use a breathable material that can filter out germs. For thinner materials, like cotton t-shirts, scarfs, and pillowcases, consider doubling the number of layers. For the two materials on the top of the list (vacuum cleaner bags and tea towels), I included a brief description below.

3-pack Kenmore/Panasonic vacuum bags from Home Depot

Vacuum Cleaner Bags: These bags are often made of a tight blend of cotton or synthetic cloth or paper but be careful if you decide to go this route because many are difficult to breathe through. You can buy vacuum cleaner bags from stores like Walmart, Target, Amazon, etc. The image above is a set of replacement vacuum bags from Home Depot that are $6.49 for 3.

Tea Towel: These towels are typically made of linen, cotton, or a combination of the two. Note that tea towels are not the same as dish towels. Dish towels are made of terry cloth, which are much heavier (like the towels in you likely have in your bathroom). Tea towels are more tightly woven than dish towels and should be much thinner. Tea towels can be expensive though, especially if they’re made from high quality linen. Another cheaper option is a car shop towel, which you can get in the auto section of stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, or Target, or from an auto store like AutoZone. See link below for a mask tutorial using car shop towels.


Mask Patterns & Tutorials

Regardless of the pattern you use, you want to make sure that the nonsurgical mask (1) covers your nostrils and (2) goes below your chin. You also want the edges of the mask to touch your face. With that said, here are some good tutorials on how to make your own mask.


Pro-tip from my mom: she added a layer of gauze and a dryer sheet to the inside of her mask:

Example of what gauze looks like

You may find gauze in a first aid kit somewhere in your house. If not, you can easily get some from a drug store or the pharmacy aisle of a grocery store.

You also may have noticed that medical masks have aluminum clips on them to press the mask down over the bridge over your nose:

Example of metal clip found on medical masks

This is harder to find and I haven’t found a good solution to this. You might be able to use a an old bread twist tie. You may also be able to use thin aluminum wire from a craft store or home depot:

Aluminum wire for crafting or jewelry


You can also join the Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies group on Facebook for more information or to share your designs.

In Closing

There are still mixed messages about the effectiveness of DIY nonsurgical face masks in protecting you from getting sick. Here’s my take: If it makes you feel better, go for it! It doesn’t hurt–unless you’ve chosen material that you can’t breath through. Also, it’s a decent way to prevent yourself from touching your face and by making your own, you’re preserving the protective equipment for those who need it most like doctors, policemen, and grocery store workers.

It’s important to remember though that face masks are not a substitute for social distancing or washing your hands. Keep doing both to keep yourself and others safe.