Although a DIY face mask for sickness prevention is not as effective as a purchased and medically-approved mask, a project by the University of Hong Kong offers evidence DIY masks may be 80% to 90% as effective. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that wearing a mask is not necessary unless you are caring for someone who is ill with an infectious disease like the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu. If you don't have access to a mask and need one to care for your loved one or to prevent a patient from spreading the illness, it is worth knowing how to make your own face mask.
DIY Face Masks May Be Effective
The WHO maintains that a face mask does not protect the general public from infectious diseases like coronovirus or the flu. Masks help those who are caring for sick people, and they can prevent the spread of illness if worn by the people who are sick. Researchers at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital, the Hong Kong Consumer Council, and other groups worked together to analyze the effectiveness of surgical masks available for purchase and create a plan for making your own face masks in times of shortage. Lab testing revealed that the masks were 80% to 90% as effective as purchased surgical masks at filtering out aerosol and droplets. While these masks are not as effective as ones you can buy, the research team did some rigorous testing and determined an effective mask needed three layers:
- Outer layer - This layer must be water resistent to keep out droplets. A plastic file folder works well.
- Middle layer - This layer must provide filtration. Using an electron microscope, the team analyzed paper towel and determined it was similar in structure to a purchased mask.
- Inner layer - This layer needs to absorb water vapor from the breath of the person wearing the mask. A three-ply or four-ply facial tissue works well.
How to Make Your Own Face Mask
Using the Hong Kong researchers' work, you can make your own face mask for germs. Remember, this is not helpful unless you are sick or caring for someone who is sick. Each mask uses items that are readily available and unlikely to be in short supply during emergencies. These masks are affordable and easy to make on your own.
Things You'll Need
Gather the following supplies to make a DIY paper face mask:
- Clear plastic file folder
- Two sheets of paper towels
- One facial tissue
- Two binder clips
- Hole punch
- One plastic-coated wire or twist tie
- Glasses or safety goggles
- Rubber bands or elastic cord
- Two-inch-wide masking tape or painter's tape
Making the DIY Face Mask
- Start by washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Clean your work surface and tools and disinfect with bleach.
- Put one square of paper towel on your work surface. Place a second square of paper towel over the first one, turning it 90 degrees so any patterns or perforations do not overlap.
- Unfold a piece of Kleenex or other facial tissue and place this on top of the two layers of paper towel.
- Holding all three layers together, cut the stack in half using the sterilized scissors. You now have two rectangular stacks. Set one aside.
- Tear a small piece of masking tape and apply it to one shorter side of the rectangle of paper towel and tissue, allowing one inch to extend beyond the edge of the paper. Wrap this around the stack and adhere it to the other side. This seals one edge. Repeat with the other short edge.
- Use the hole punch to make four holes. You will punch through the masking tape edges near each corner.
- Turn the mask so the paper towel side is up.
- Place a twist tie or plastic-coated wire along one long edge of the mask. Apply a piece of masking tape lengthwise over the wire to tape it to the mask. Allow the edge of the tape to hang over the edge of the paper towel so you can wrap it around the other side to seal it.
- Tie four pieces of elastic cord or four rubber bands through the holes you punched in the corners of the mask. Set the mask aside.
- Cut the plastic file folder so it is only one layer. Wrap the plastic around the glasses or safety goggles and use binder clips on each of the ear pieces to attach it.
How to Wear the DIY Face Mask
- To put on the mask, arrange it with the tissue side over your nose and mouth.
- Loop the rubber bands over your ears, adjusting the bands as needed to get a good fit.
- Pinch the twist tie or wire to fit the mask tightly over the bridge of your nose.
- Put on the glasses with the file folder face shield.
Making a Child's Face Mask for Germs
You can make a child-sized version of this mask by making some minor modifications. You'll need a tape measure to help.
- Choose child-sized goggles or glasses instead of adult-sized ones.
- Cut the plastic file folder to fit the goggles.
- Measure the child from ear to ear and cut the paper towel face mask down to the appropriate size.
- Tie the rubber bands to a smaller size to fit over the child's ears.
Emergency Substitutions for Tools and Supplies
During emergencies and other events, it may be difficult to find everything you need. How do you make a face mask if you don't have all the supplies? While you can't replicate the filtering ability of the paper towel, you can use some items to substitute for other supplies. Keep in mind, these substitutions may reduce the effectiveness of the mask.
Substitutions for File Folders
The researchers who devised this mask design chose the file folder because it is usually easy-to-find, is see-through, and is water resistant. In testing with a florescent solution to simulate a cough, the file folder was excellent at protecting the person wearing it as a face shield. However, if you can't find a file folder, try one of these ideas instead:
- Cut down the plastic viewing window from product packaging. Apply tape to the edges of the plastic so it is not sharp.
- Make a shield out of overlapping strips of transparent packaging tape. Ensure each strip is well sealed to the adjacent ones.
- Cut down a plastic envelope or document holder instead.
Substitutions for the Facial Tissue
The research team chose facial tissues because they were absorbent. However, if you don't have facial tissues handy, try one of these ideas:
- Fold several sheets of toilet paper to the appropriate size.
- Use a paper napkin, cutting it to fit the size of the mask.
- Try a thin piece of soft fabric that has been disinfected.
Substitutions for Glasses
What if you don't wear glasses or have a pair of goggles handy? These substitutions can help you make the mask anyway:
- Find an old pair of sunglasses and knock the lenses out. You only need the glasses frame to make the mask.
- Use a visor or hat with a bill, trimming the bill down as needed.
- Try a headband or other accessory that fits your head.
Caring For and Disposing of Your Mask
Whether you choose to make your own face mask or buy one, the WHO suggest you keep these tips in mind when using it and disposing of it:
- Wash your hands before putting on the mask.
- When wearing the mask, make sure it covers your mouth and nose completely. Avoid any gaps if possible.
- Do not touch the mask after you have put it on.
- When the inner portion of the mask becomes damp, throw it away and replace it with a new one.
- The only portion of the DIY face mask you can reuse is the plastic face shield. For that, sterilize it with alcohol or a bleach solution before using it again.
- Avoid touching the front of the mask when you take it off. Instead, remove it by the elastic loops.
- Throw the mask away after use. Wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer after touching it.
Stay Calm and Be Creative
There may be times when you don't have face masks on hand, but knowing how to make your own can help you handle an emergency situation. While a DIY face mask isn't quite as effective as a purchased option, it's better than nothing. Staying calm and being creative can help you better care for those who need your help while protecting your own health at the same time.