How to Make a DIY Face Mask

Keep yourself and others safe and healthy by wearing this DIY face mask.

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The most current CDC guidelines recommend the use of cloth face masks in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). Recent studies have shown most face masks offer a level of protection and may help curb the spread of COVID-19, even if they are not the approved N-95 mask. With many folks heeding the Surgeon General’s warning and leaving N-95 masks for frontline health workers, DIY face masks are the way forward for many of us.

At Family Handyman, we’re a lot more familiar with hammers and nails, but something just feels right about trading them in for needles and thread at this point in time. So here’s our guide to a DIY face mask using common items in your home. This project was completed at my kitchen table one night after dinner.

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Materials you’ll need:

  • For the mask
    • Two pieces of fabric about a 9-1/2 in. square each.
  • For the strap
    • Cloth
    • Ribbon
    • String
    • Shoelaces
    • Stretch-band material or rubber bands
    • Sewing thread

Tools you’ll need:

  • Yardstick
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors and/or utility knife
  • Iron
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread
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1. Choose and Cut Fabric

A Cambridge University study shows that antimicrobial pillowcases, cotton-blend t-shirts and dish towels filter a higher percentage of particles, but any lightweight washable fabric will give some level of protection. The thinner your fabric, the easier your sewing.

It’s best to choose different types of fabric so you can tell inside from out when putting on the mask. We found some left over material from a Space Girl party dress (that was a wild party!) and some plain white muslin. Lay your two fabrics over each other and cut out a 9-1/2 in. square.

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2. Edge Stitch #1

With your two square pieces of cloth layered over each other, fold over two parallel edges about 3/8 in. and iron them flat. Many plans we looked at called for hand pinning folds and pleats for edge stitching, but if you’re not a seasoned seamstress you’ll find ironing far easier.

Once your edges are folded over, stitch those same two edges. On our mask-making night, my partner assembled a half-a-dozen masks on a sewing machine in the time it took me to stitch one by hand.

While I’m much better with a hammer or power tool in hand, I found the quiet task of hand stitching relaxing, even if my results paled in comparison to those from the sewing machine.

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3. Create Pleats

A pleated mask will provide the best universal fit. Keeping the stitched edges top and bottom, iron in three pleats, leaving a total width of about three inches.

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4. Edge Stitch #2

Keeping the pleats in place, stitch the short edges.

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5. Choose Straps and Cut to Length

Strap design can vary depending on what you have on hand. It can be any ribbon, string, shoestring, stretch-band or fabric less than 3/8 in. wide. The two predominant strap styles are tie straps or ear loops.

Tie straps should be cut to about 18 in. long. If you do have stretch band material, best to cut the ear loops at eight inches long. If you decide to use fabric, cut an 18 x 3/4 in. wide strip, fold and iron the edges to its middle, then do a zig-zag stitch up the center.

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6. Attach Straps

If you’re making ear loop straps, attach them perpendicular to the mask at the corners. With string or any strap material less than a one-quarter inch, best to make a small loop or knot when you stitch it to the face mask.

Tie straps should be attached at a 45 degree angle in the corners of the mask. If you make tie straps, you can tie loops in them and integrate rubber bands. This tip makes for a snug fit on the face and gets around the awkward task of having to tie on the mask on behind your head.

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Wearing a Mask

For full effectiveness make sure your mask fits snugly. Despite the inconvenience of tie straps I find them best for getting a good seal on my face. Avoid touching the mask while using it and sanitize your hands after handling it.

Be sure to wash your mask regularly to keep it germ free. It’s not a bad idea to have two or three for yourself and keep them in rotation in your laundry. It’s best to wash in hot water with regular detergent, and dry on a high heat setting.

Always sanitize your hands after handling and do not touch your face. This is also a good rule of thumb if you’re planning on gifting or donating your masks. The Sewing and Craft Alliance has an updated list of health care facilities nationally that have asked for fabric mask donations.

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Stay Safe and Healthy

Much of what we know about this coronavirus is changing day to day, yet one fact has remained constant: It is primarily transmitted through the nose and mouth. So it makes sense that wearing a mask may slow the spread of the virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that the largest “mistake in the U.S. and Europe” is that “people aren’t wearing masks.” At present there is talk the CDC may change its guidelines, and the Trump Administration seems to be considering an official recommendation for us to wear face masks in public.

While the medical effectiveness of a DIY face mask can be debated, it best to decide for yourself if a mask makes you feel safer. After all, we’re all just looking for a little peace of mind in these difficult times.

Bill Bergmann
“Bungalow” Bill Bergmann is an associate editor at Family Handyman. He’s been a licensed contractor/builder for more than 20 years. For him, there’s nothing better than taking out a few walls to make people happier in their homes.