Purell and toilet paper aren't the only items flying off store shelves as coronavirus spreads. Masks have also become a hot commodity, so much so that hospitals across the country have begun sending out desperate pleas for additional personal protective equipment as their supplies rapidly dwindle.
Previously, the CDC only recommended masks for front-line health care workers, those who are sick or those who are caring for someone sick. But on Friday, President Donald Trump said Americans should wear non-surgical masks when they're out of their homes to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
"The CDC is advising the use of nonmedical cloth face covering as a voluntary health measure," Trump, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during his daily briefing on the pandemic. "It is voluntary."
"The CDC is not recommending the use of medical-grade or surgical-grade masks," he added.
N95 masks should still be reserved for health professionals who need them most since supplies are limited.
The change indicates a shift in policy for the federal government, and means many of us now need to shift our behavior.
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"There is increasing evidence that people could be spreading COVID-19 while asymptomatic," Dr. Nate Favini, medical lead of Forward, a primary care practice, told TODAY Style. "In an ideal world, we would have enough medical-grade masks for everyone to wear, but we were underprepared for the epidemic and even health care providers are running short on masks. Given that, homemade masks are likely better than nothing."
Whether you were born to craft or don't know the first thing about sewing, there are several ways to make a DIY protective face mask. To help take the guesswork out of the process, TODAY reached out to health and fashion experts, and a few at-home crafters. With their tips, you'll learn how to make a face mask with fabric in no time.
How effective is a face mask?
Masks are generally used to protect yourself and others from respiratory droplets, and with a rising number of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, Favini said there's no harm in wearing one while you're out and about as long as it is homemade and not a medical mask, which should be reserved for health care professionals.
In order for a homemade mask to be effective, Favini said it must cover the nose and mouth since this is where respiratory droplets enter and exit. As for fabric recommendations, the thicker the better.
"In general, the thicker and more tightly woven the material is, the more protective it likely will be. We also have some reason to think that vacuum filters may be more effective in filtering the particles and might be a good middle layer between an inner and outer layer of fabric," he said.
If you're wearing a DIY protective face mask in public, there aren't defined recommendations for cleansing it, but you should wash it occasionally.
"It would be reasonable to make a few masks so that you can easily switch them out and wash them in between uses. Since the mask is mostly to protect other people from your respiratory droplets, in case you are an asymptomatic carrier, it’s likely OK to rewear the mask (a second time). If you are in the presence of someone who is symptomatic, I would recommend washing your mask (immediately)," Favini said.
Dr. John Torres, medical correspondent for NBC News, adds that wearing a mask is not an excuse to get complacent. You should try not to touch or adjust the mask when outside your home and always take it off back to front when you get home so the outside doesn't touch your face, he recommends.
DIY protective face masks: What you need to know
Fashion companies around the world and everyday crafters are lending their services to the COVID-19 fight by making protective face masks. But you don't have to be a fashion designer or seamstress to pull together something practical in a pinch.
"I have been much more empowered by having a makeshift face mask to wear so I can do basic tasks in my apartment building, like taking the trash out or going for a short walk while still maintaining my distance from others. I think having a mask — whatever the type — will allow a release of some anxiety and will also help you feel productive in a time where many of us feel aimless," costume designer and stylist Whitney Anne Adams said.
You can make a DIY protective face mask using items you likely already have at home. Aline Smith, a tutor based in Massachusetts, has been sewing these fashion face masks at home using 100% cotton fabric and her sewing machine. It took her an hour and a half on her first try, but once she got into a groove, she said it now takes her less than a half hour for each mask.
Ava Nguyen, a professor of communication studies at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, California, has been sewing masks with her mom and recently sent a batch to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix.
Need a face mask pattern to get you started? Check out FreeSewing.org.
How to make a face mask with fabric three ways:
Ready to make your own face mask? You can use the traditional needle and thread method, try a sewing machine (if you have one) or try an easy, no-sew mask. If you want to keep it simple, tie something like a scarf around your face.
Here are a few DIY mask tips from Smith, Nguyen and Adams:
DIY face mask supplies
Depending on your method, you might need some or all of the following:
- Needle and thread
- Sewing machine (if you have one)
- Rubber band or elastics
- The ideal fabric is tightly woven 100% cotton
- Try to avoid anything with too much stretch
- In a pinch, if you don't have cotton, you can use pillowcases, tea towels, thick T-shirts or vacuum bags
- Scarves and bandannas also work
How to make a mask with fabric without sewing:
- Use a square scarf or a cut a large square out of a T-shirt (at least 20 inches by 20 inches).
- Fold two sides of the square in to meet each other in the middle then fold this in half lengthwise. You should be left with a long rectangle with the edges sandwiched inside.
- Grab two hair ties (or rubber bands) and pull one around each end of the long rectangle, roughly breaking the rectangle into thirds. (It should almost look like a candy wrapper.)
- Fold each outside third of fabric into the center.
- Pull the mask on by fitting the hair elastic around ears and making sure the end tails of fabric are against your face so the mask stays put.
How to make a face mask with fabric using needle and thread:
- Cut two pieces of fabric that are equally sized (measure your face to see how wide/long you need them to be).
- Take the two layers of your 100% cotton fabric or substitute. If you're working with patterns, face the two sides together (like you're making a sandwich).
- Place the elastic or ties (*see instructions below) in between the layers and sew them into the corner. For elastics, sew one at each end so it creates a loop on each side. For ties, use one piece at each corner so there are four total.
- Make three staggered pleats lengthwise on the mask, as if folding a paper fan. Then sew all the way around. This will make a rectangular mask.
How to make a face mask with fabric using a sewing machine:
- Cut four pieces of fabric that are equally sized (measure your face to see how wide/long you need them to be).
- Pair up two of the four pieces together so they are symmetrical. Sew the center seams (curved part that covers your nose) together. Repeat with the remaining two pieces.
- Get your ties ready (*see instructions below). Take one tie from the 11-inch piece and one from the 9.5-inch piece. The longer piece will go on the top of the mask (where it would touch your nose) and the shorter will go on the bottom.
- Place the two sewn pieces of fabric on top of each other (like a sandwich) so they're symmetrical. Place ties on the corners of one side of the mask. They should meet the edge of the mask and then go inside of the mask.
- On the edge of the mask, you should see the following: one layer of mask, the ribbon/tie and another layer of mask. Sew the edges so they are all sewn together.
- Next, repeat this step for the other side with your remaining ties, making sure to pair ties up so they're the same length and are symmetrical on both sides. Sew around the mask but keep one side open so you can turn the mask inside out.
Turn it inside out and sew the gap closed.
*How to make elastics for your mask:
- To make your elastics, you can use ribbon or more of the fabric you're using for the mask.
- You will roughly need one 11-inch and one 9.5-inch long strip of fabric, both of which are 1 inch in width.
- Cut the two strips in half and place them aside (follow sewing instructions for the mask above).