There continues to be a debate whether face masks can help contain the spread of coronavirus. You don’t need to wear a mask, according to the World Health Organisation, Public Health England and many academics, unless when taking care of a person with Covid-19. There just isn’t much evidence on how well face masks work. Some might say anything is better than nothing, but wearing a mask when leaving the house may also create a false sense of security.
Despite this, many countries, from Austria to Israel and Singapore, have made face masks compulsory on public transport and in shops, and the UK government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) met on Tuesday to review the latest evidence.
The argument is that with so many of those infected not displaying any symptoms, masks may prevent them from unknowingly spreading the virus to others when coughing and sneezing. If used properly, a mask could also deter people from touching their face and infecting themselves, especially when combined with frequent hand washing and social-distancing measures.
Leaving the medical-grade masks to health workers, where they are needed most, people are increasingly looking to make their own masks at home. WIRED has picked three simple designs using fabrics you already have around the house and without the need for master-level sewing skills.
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But remember, do not remove a mask by grabbing its mouth area, instead take it by the straps around your ears. Don’t use a mask as a substitute for social distancing when you’re outside the house. And keep washing those hands.
Old T-shirt combined with kitchen paper (No sewing required)
Researchers found that T-shirts made up of two layers of heavyweight “quilter’s cotton” with a thread count of at least 180 are the best material for homemade masks as they are able to filter out small particles yet remain breathable.
How can you tell if your fabric will be good enough at removing particles? Hold it up to a bright light and check how much light it lets through. If there isn’t much light and you can’t see the fibres that make up the fabric, it should be dense enough to offer protection.
Outline the pattern of the mask on an old T-shirt. The bottom line should be just beneath the armpits and then cut along the lines through both sides of the shirt so your mask has two layers.
Next, measure 15 centimetres in from the edge of each side and cut out tie strings. Make sure the part that goes on your face is large enough to cover your nose and mouth. You can add a piece of paper towel between the two layers of the shirt for extra protection and attach it with a safety pin at the bottom.
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Finally, tie the top strings under the back of your head and the bottom strings at the top of your head so the mask covers your nose and mouth. The mask should fit nicely underneath your chin.
The bandana-coffee-filter mask (No sewing required)
For this one you’ll have to source a bandana and two hair ties, or rubber bands, to create ear loops. Pillowcases, scarves or tea towels can also be cut into a square shape – as long as they are made from 100 per cent cotton or another tightly woven material.
Fold the square fabric in half then cut a coffee filter horizontally across the middle and place in the centre of the bandana. Fold the bottom of the bandana up to the middle as pictured here, covering the filter, and then fold the top down. Place each hair tie about one-third of the way in from the edge of the bandana – they should be about 15 centimetres apart.
Fold the sides over the ties so they meet in the middle. The ends should overlap slightly and you can tuck one end into the other to keep them secure. Finally, slip the hair ties over each ear so that the mask fits snugly on your face.
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A new study from Northeastern University, which has not yet been peer reviewed, suggests that wrapping a layer of nylon tights around the outside of homemade face masks offers even better protection. Using an instrument called PortaCount, which is usually used to test the filtering capabilities of medical-grade masks, the researchers found that the cloth-nylon-mask combination blocked out 75 per cent of the particles. Previous lab experiments showed that the surgical masks used by health workers filter out between 60 to 80 per cent of small particles.
The cloth face mask you sew yourself
Hair ties or rubber bands are not particularly comfortable around the ears, so you may want to use cloth strings instead. Cut out two 25×15 centimetre rectangles of fabric and stack them on top of each other. Fold over the long sides (around 0.6cm) and sew by hand or machine. Then fold the fabric over 1.3 cm along the short sides and stitch down.
Cut two long pieces of string (or from a fabric) that can be used to tie the mask behind your neck and the back of your head. Each string should be about 0.3cm wide. Use a large needle or bobby pin to push the strings through the hem on each side of the mask. Adjust the mask so it fits your face and then tie the string ends tightly together.
Masks should be washed with soap after every use and left to dry. Make sure to dispose of and replace the coffee filter and paper towel inserts after each use. Reusable cloth masks are not recommended and may even increase the risk of infection because virus particles may go through the material and moisture could retain the virus in the material.
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