Homemade Masks In A Time Of Shortage

Due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, there has been a huge shortage of N95 masks. [] from Smart Air has been working on designs for a DIY mask that may be able to protect those who haven’t been able to secure their own masks. While there may be an abundance of memes around the various material people have been able to use to substitute for the filters, there is some very real science behind the sorts of materials that can effectively protect us from the virus.

According to a studied performed at Cambridge University during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, while surgical masks perform the best at capturing Bacillus atrophaeus bacteria (0.93-1.25 microns) and Bacteriophage MS virus (0.023 microns), vacuum cleaner bags, and tea towels, and cotton T-shirts were not too far behind. The coronavirus is 0.1-0.2 microns, well within the range for the results of the tests.

As it turns out, cotton homemade masks may be quite effective as alternatives – not to mention reusable. They also found out that double layering the masks didn’t help with improving the protection against viruses. On the other hand, one significant design choice was the breathability of the material. While vacuum cleaner bags may be quite effective at keeping out small particles, they aren’t as comfortable or easy to breathe in as cotton masks.

Have you tried making your own cotton masks? In a time when hospitals are running low on surgical masks, it’s possibly the best option for helping to keep much-needed medical supplies in the hands of those helping at the front line.

[Thanks to pie for the tip!]

297 thoughts on “Homemade Masks In A Time Of Shortage

  1. I went to Home Depot and bought a MERV 12 Honeywell air filter, which is made of polypropolene fabric. I wish I could have gotten MERV 13, but they didn’t have it, however they are available online. My plan is to cut up the air filter and insert it into a pocket in the cloth sewn mask. From everything I have researched there is no fiberglass in the filter, however! this was not easy to find out – and it looks as though I will need a pair of wirecutters to cut the thin chicken wire type stuff in the filter paper. Does anyone know if this is a reasonable hack to make cloth masks work better? The MERV 12 says it filters out “virus carriers”. Thank you

    1. Use the Ridged VF6000 shop vac filter I used the HEPA filter but the others work. Cut the filter away from the rubber ends and you will have a piece of pleated filter about 8’ long.
      Cross cut filter 10 folds long. Hem over the top fold to the inside with a piece of then wire
      Inside and use an office stapler to fasten the hem down with the wire inside. Don’t place staples in the center of the hem Do the same at the bottom but use piece of elastic inside the hem . Staple one end stretch the elastic slightly staple other side and place 2 more staples in the hem . Lay the mask face down and fold in half at right angle to pleats.
      Pull the pleats up in the corners and staple them together. This will make a 3D shaped mask. The pleats add surface area and make it easier to breath through. Staple an ear piece – elastic rubber bands on anything thing that works to hold it on the face to the folds at the corners. I placed the ones I made into nearly boling water 180 degrees for a few minutes placed them into the dryer at high heat dry them completely and place in individual zip lock bags to make them as sanitary as possible. There is lots of different ways to do this whatever works. The filter material is very stiff and water resistant and staples hold very well and there is no need to sew them. You could properly wash them and use over but I have not tried that. Or boil and dry them again. One filter will make about 15 masks and cost with the HEPA filter used is about $2.50 about half hat if you use the white filters.

      1. I haVe read people are using sew in interfacing for a filter layer inbetween two cotton layers. I am looking at featherweight, not sure which thickness would be best. Any comments?

    2. Yes that’s very similar to what I’m doing except I was able to get the MERV 13 pleated filters. i’ve also been doing quite a bit of research and what it says is that even though it says filters up to 0.3, it actually filters 99% of up to 0.1 because there’s a .8 0.3 where regular particles Follow the airstream in and out but smaller than 0.3 they can’t follow the airstream they just bounce around and get caught in the filter anyway. So I’m completely in agreement with you and if you use the Olsen masks, you can cut a 2” x 2” piece of tinfoil baking pan, fold over the edges, and glue.

    1. I am making a 3 layer mask with a non-woven -polypropylene layer from landscape weed barrier. Dewitt Company Weed Barrier 12 year sells a polypropylene spun bond, melt bond, spun bond. This material and spun bond process seems similar to how they manufacture N95 masks. Layers 1 and 3 are 100% cotton and layer 2 is the weed barrier filter.

  2. I’ve been doing homemade R&D
    And I can with confidence tell you all that the plant ties that I got from menards are a superior nose bridge option for pinching around the nose area.
    I have glasses and my mask kept fogging them up, floral wire was too painful, aluminum foil wasn’t strong enough, so I got this, it’s a wire cord, about 1/8 in think and it works beautifully. It’s a sort of plant tie to tire your plants to posts and whatnot.

    1. This pattern is excellent. I have ordered this for the fileter insert. Does anyohne know if it is good?
      Meltblown Cloth – Original Mask Cloth Material – Nonwoven Filter Fabric Mask Filtering Layer Application- Meltblown Roll Making the Efficiency Filters of Mask

    1. it actually does. It has to do with the 0.3 µm threshold where 0.3 and larger is able to flow with the wind stream of your breath and Less than 0.3 can’t catch the wind stream so it actually just keeps bouncing around and eventually just sticks to the filter medium. Give me a minute I’ll find the article

  3. I made some masks using cotton for the layer against the face, cambric dust cover( which has very similar characteristics to surgical mask material , it is 100% polypropylene, non woven spun bonded) this is the middle filtering layer, and another material that is 50% polypropylene & 50% polyethylene that is the outer layer. With elastic to go around the ears.

  4. Who has the time to read all of this? Not me.

    It seems long on speculation and short on science.

    I have access to a microscope at work. I looked at several materials under the microscope. The N-95 mask has many many layers of woven fibers with small spaces between them. Nothing as large as a red blood cell could possibly get through it. Red blood cells are many times larger than bacteria which are many times larger than viruses. Most infectious viruses ride around on microdroples which are about the same size (6 micrometers) as a red blood cell. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143281/

    i looked at several household fabrics under a light microscope. Most of them have holes between the fibers the size of hundreds of red blood cells. They might filter out a few but not that many droplets. Like a chain link fence would not filter out many mosquitoes. A double layer of tea cloth does not have hardly any larger spaces. Corduroy has a tight weave and a couple layers of that would be better than most. People who know fabrics would have something useful to say. Listen to them.

    It is a narrow needle to threat, between loose enough for air exchange and tight enough to filter out something that small. I would guess anything that works well is going to be hard but not impossible to breath through. Not that helpful for old people with heart and lung diseases.

    At smaller sizes, strange things can happen. Things like charge or shape or adherence or other factors might become important. I don’t know much if anything about these factors. Bottom line, one unknown factor can make the mask useless. At the end of the day, the fabrics must be tested in practical situations. Something like taking a similar but harmless virus in droplets and spray it by the mask and measure how many viable viruses get through it.

    1. I have tested the pleated HEPA filter that are used in shop vacs by filling the mask I make with water. The water does not run through it freely it at all . The other regular white shop vac filters allows some water to move through them but not much. How tight does a filter that allows air to flow easily need to be to still hold out water. Also I have filled my lungs with smoke (dirty job but someone has to do it) and no smoke or none I could see passed the mask when I just exhaled normally.

  5. Using Vacuum cleaner bags or air filters can be used and actually rank the safest mask materials thus far … check this youtube clip on how to make your own … also the second link will show you also which materials rank the best…
    I’m working on trying to order materials in bulk to possibly start making a bunch to donate… stay tune, stay safe & stay home!!



  6. Wali Khan is in Chicago, Illinois.
    March 23 at 8:57 AM
    While working my ICU shift, I noticed that the shoe covers we wear during messy/bloody traumatic arrests have a nice elastic seal that allows them to tightly fit around our shoes. Having seen a similar thing on a DYI page, I decided to experiment and create my own mask. One that has a tight seal (elastic on top and bottom) and is completely water resistant. In less than 2 minutes I had a perfectly functioning “mask”. Not an N95, but still a great mask for desperate times. Definitely better than a bandana. This is why nurses are the masters of their domain! We make things work for us.

    There is a global shortage on PPE. We simply don’t have what we need to protect ourselves, our patients and our families and the government has been slow to act. You’ve seen pictures of health care professionals with bandanas, home made masks, and plastic bags over their faces, essentially anything to protect them on the front lines. We can’t wait because this virus wont wait for us to come restock. Infection and death rates are climbing daily and the fight goes on. Help yourself and help others by sharing this video!

    Desperate times call for innovative measures.

    ****(Not a scientifically approved method by ANY means. But neither are garbage bags and bandanas, so.. here we are)

    1. and yes i have built masks – bought highest copper content nylon socks i could find cut for holes at edges and us shoestring to tie – fabric is stretchy so no gaps when pulled taught and tied at back w strings

    1. It looks like good stuff, but some people are saying it may be treated with weedkiller or other chemicals. The sample I handled some while ago did not seem to be. Read the packaging very carefully, and wash it very well even if it doesn’t say anything, I’m sure cleanliness is not real high on the list for it’s intended purpose.

  7. If you make the “Olsen mask” which is the best to seal gaps, You can take a foil baking pan and cut a 2” x 2” Piece out of the foil baking pan With tinsnips or a old pair of scissors that you really didn’t want anyway, And fold it over a few times, and fold over the edges. then you can cut to size, remove an MERV 13 pleated furnace air filter Which says that it does filter out viruses.

  8. I’ve put together another way of getting average-maker masks. These use Merv-13 filters. Not N95 level – but are much nicer for everyday walking about. Also – if we spread the user of THIS style -perhaps we can leave the N95s for the nurses. Doesn’t take a machine, and they are super simple to build and you can still get Merv13 filters in a lot of places:

  9. What is a N95 mask? The N95 mask is one of nine types of particulate protective masks certified by NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health). “N” means not resistant to oil. “95” means exposed to a specified number of special test particles. The particle concentration in the mask is more than 95% lower than the particle concentration outside the mask.

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