Frequently Asked Questions
There are several styles / patterns that can be made. In order to determine which mask to make there are several things you should consider:
- Are you making a mask for a specific organization? If so refer to the organization prior to making a choice. You can find pattern requests for organizations listed on our site HERE.
- What supplies do you have on hand? If you do not have elastic choose a mask that can be made with fabric ties.
- Do you need a mask that provides a space for a filter, or a nose piece? If so refer to masks that have these features.
- 100% Cotton, commonly called Quilters Cotton
- 100% cotton fabric - higher quality (quilting or bed sheet fabric is best, t-shirt / jersey is ok too!)
- Use different fabric color choices for the inside and outside.
- Light colored fabric is preferred so soiling can be seen. Place the lighter colored fabric on the inside of the mask.
- Flannel is a brushed cotton. It can be used on the inside of the mask. Flannel is not preferred by everyone due to its warmth.
- Less desirable but usable is a cotton/poly blend
- If you are donating the mask, the fabric should be new.
- 100% Cotton Knit (a.k.a. t-shirt fabric) can be used for masks. Current research shows it has similar filtration attributes as quilters' cotton and cotton bed sheets,
- The following fabrics should NOT be used:
- Anything waterproof or sealed, fabric must be breathable
- Fabric that is treated with chemicals
- Anything that cannot be laundered at a hot temperature
- Avoid fabric that is too heavy (i.e. canvas, upholstery, etc.)
- Colors and Patterns
- Use different fabric colors for the inside and outside.
- Lighter colored fabrics are prefereable to better show if the mask has been soiled, but in this time of need, most facilities will take any color of mask!
It is important for the wearer to know which side was outward-facing and which side was against the face, in the event they have removed the mask and need to put it back on.
If you do not have two different fabrics, you can use the reverse side of printed fabrics, which can often be distinguished from the primary side.
- What thread should I use?
- Try to match the thread type to the fabric.
- 100% cotton fabric = 100% cotton thread.
- If you are unable to match them, use stable threads in this order of preference: 1) cotton, 2) cotton-poly blend, 3) 100% poly thread
- What elastic should I use?
- Elastic is in short supply. We recommend switching to ties, if you do not have elastic.
- Elastic should be in good shape, with plenty of stretch and of an appropriate size to fit over the ears. 1/16 in round cord or 1/8 inch braided work well.
- What should I do if I run out of elastic?
- Possible alternatives are: elastic headbands or hair elastics
- Switch to a mask with ties: The "Rosie" (a.k.a. "We Can Sew It") mask (video series above) has ties, which also provides more adaptability for sizing.
- How wide should straps / ties be?
- Final tie widths on hospital-preferred masks are from 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch, much thicker and they become difficult to secure
General patterns are located in links above. If you are making masks for a specific facility, please look at their PATTERN REQUEST before beginning. Some facilities require a specific type of sewn mask.
You’re of course welcome to use them, but keep in mind patterns listed above have been recommended by hospitals and formal healthcare facilities.
Our partner, Pins & Needles, formed their own patterns (linked above) based on guidelines and requests from local facilities, and there are other options that have been published by hospitals around the USA.
A pocket for a filter is often an important feature as well as 2 different color fabrics. If you’re looking for an “easier” file, the pattern with pocket for filter may be the one you’re looking for, but again, please check our need list and/or with your target facility to ensure your chosen pattern will be accepted.
- Many of the patterns recommended suggest a pocket for a removable filter that can be added by the facility.
- Do NOT sew a filter material into a mask. Washing will likely degrade its effectiveness. Filter material is often unable to withstand a healthcare facility's hot water and/or autoclave process, rendering the mask single-use.
- Many facilities are adding their own filters, or using the cotton masks to prolong the use of the masks on hand. You do NOT need to include a filter for a successful donation!
- Recent research from a hospital in Shenzhen (citation coming soon) has recommended using a paper towel or facial tissue as a filter insert, which can provide a higher degree of filtration than cotton fabric alone.
- Nosepieces should similarly be removable. Metal can be an allergen, and it can also interfere with the laundering process or break down during laundering causing a hazard. The patterns suggested on our site largely include nosepiece pockets so that any material the facility or wearer chooses can be inserted or removed to help form the mask over the nose and create a better fit. Facilities will often provide their own nosepieces, which do not have to be included at the time of donation.
For individual use, there is a wide variety of options for both filters and nosepieces. Check with our Facebook groups to see the ideas shared, but please proceed with caution for the same risks (i.e. laundry, allergy, particulate filter effectiveness, etc.) apply.
Please review CDC guidelines for more detail.
*No homemade mask can replace medical-grade or "N95" standard masks. The mask patterns, materials, and features recommended here are a stop-gap measure that is meant for backup use in the event that preferred PPE is not available. Use of a clean mask by individuals who are already sick or who may not know if they are sick to reduce contagious droplets that may otherwise expel further into the air or onto surfaces.*
Congratulations! If you have completed masks, please place them in a clean plastic bag before shipping or dropping them off at a collection point. Before making a journey to a facility, please check their information here, or on their website for how to visit and make donations safely. Larger facilities may have protocols or an offsite collection point for donations during this time.
You can find the list of locations accepting sewn masks HERE.
Many of the local / regional Facebook groups have established collection networks. For example, if you are from Northeast Ohio, all Pins & Needles locations will have drop off bins. If you are in the DC / Virginia / Maryland area, visit their website for help!
Want to connect with others like you in your area? Don't know how to sew, but want to help collect / deliver / network with facilities in your area?
We have partnered with the DC/VA/MD MMC group to develop a list of quality Facebook groups that are undertaking support, collection, and distribution networks in regions, states, and large cities across the USA and in other countries. Click here for the list to find Masketeers near you!
Who is wearing masks?
- When we think of sewing a mask for others, healthcare facility staff are the first who come to mind. In fact many settings utilize or even require masks including: nursing homes, EMTs, dental staff, home care workers, and more.
- Additionally, many individuals are choosing to wear masks in addition to social distancing. Mask wearing is becoming more commonplace in the USA during this pandemic as a precautionary measure to prevent the wearer from unknowingly spreading the virus.
- Countries in Asia, where mask-wearing in public is more commonplace also have had greater success in containing the virus, despite high population-density cities making social distancing more challenging than in western countries. It is difficult to know how much of benefit can be attributed to mask-wearing, as other measures were taken to prevent the virus spread (such as widespread testing), but has been cited by researchers as a factor correlating with reduced spread and deaths from the virus.
- For more information, check out "Why wear a mask?" from Masks4All!
Will the mask protect me?
- The reality is that most masks, especially these cloth masks, are more effective for preventing the wearer from spreading a virus than for preventing the wearer from catching the virus. The hashtag #iprotectyouandyouprotectme and #masks4all have sprung up to support this movement.
How do I wear a mask? Here are some good practices:
- Wearing a mask is no substitute for social distancing and washing one's hands, and should only be considered as an additional measure to these best practices. It can help reduce the risk of spread when social distancing is unavoidable (i.e. a trip to the grocery store, delivery, or other errand) and is a courtesy to those around the wearer when the wearer is unsure if they are contagious.
- Wearing a clean mask that conforms closely to the face can help reduce the amount of contagious material that is expelled into the air through the mouth and nose and onto surfaces. This can help reduce (but is unlikely to eliminate) the risk of spreading the virus in situations where public contact is necessary, or when interacting with those who are at higher risk.
- Wash your hands before putting on a clean mask. Wash your hands after removing your mask and placing it safely aside to be laundered.
- Do NOT touch your mask once it is on your face. If you touch or adjust your mask, try to wash your hands both before and after doing so. If you are not infected, but touch your mask with dirty hands, a moist mask may provide an environment that holds the virus close to your face. If you are contagious, the mask will contain the virus, which will transfer to your hands.
- Do NOT share a mask that has been worn by someone else without first cleaning it thoroughly with laundry detergent in hot water. Boiling a mask for 30 mins is another method we have heard to sanitize a mask, but please do so carefully...also bringing a dirty mask into a kitchen carries different risks.
- If you remove the mask and then need to put it back on, do so with clean hands, and take care! Do NOT place the mask on backwards (you do not want the side that was outward-facing now against your face).
- Do consider washing your mask after each journey out of the house. A couple articles from Popular Science and the LA Times detail how best to clean a mask.
We at GetPPE are not scientists or doctors. We have compiled some of the research we have been reading for those who would like to learn more and make their own judgment.
An article explaining aerosols and mask wearing that we found helpful with illustrations to demonstrate.
For those who love to read scientific studies, a list of studies related to mask wearing can be found here.
A video that explains mask-wearing reasoning, science, and how to simply craft a DIY mask:
www.masks4all.co has some wonderful information and instructions on personal no-sew masks. While these masks are not what our facilities are looking for in donated masks, they are perfect for personal use (weekly grocery store / errand runs) and help conserve sewn masks that can be heavily laundered for facilities in need!
These are reliable patterns, which work great and can be made with household items!