Making Safe and Effective DIY Masks

Interfacing being cut for a mask layer

As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, we as a society have focused on shelter in place and other large scale social tactics to stop the spread of the virus. While this has mitigated outbreaks, we now find ourselves amidst one of the worst economic crisis our country has witnessed.

Many states, whether or not they have met national guidelines, are beginning to re-open for business. While it may help to alleviate economic woes, it puts us everyday people in a situation where protecting ourselves is necessary. There is a national shortage of PPE, masks in particular, and many enterprising people have taken up the call to begin producing life-saving masks from their homes for themselves and their community.

Why Masks?

While some people seem to feel a mask is an impingement of rights, we see a simple and effective tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19 as our cities open up. We all know masks are effective. Doctors wear them and are able to keep up caseloads, coming into contact with many COVID positive patients in a shift. Painters use them when working with harmful fumes. Masks protect wearers from ingesting material from the air; this is a general principle, used by people in many professions. Specifically to COVID-19, a new study predicts 1/12th the active infection, IF 80%+ of us wear masks: 

If 80% of Americans Wore Masks, COVID-19 Infections Would Plummet, New Study Says

It sounds too good to be true. But a compelling new study and computer model provide fresh evidence for a simple solution to help us emerge from this nightmarish lockdown. The formula? Always social distance in public and, most importantly, wear a mask. If you’re wondering whether to wear or not to wear, consider this.

We are not here to debate the political points. We are here to help you and your family have the best information to protect yourselves, the same as we want for our own families. Since the beginning of this crisis, people have been making and selling two-layer cotton home-sewn masks, which is good – any protection, including surgical masks, bandannas, and double-layer cotton, is better than nothing. Luckily for us, scientists have been hard at answering the question of what we can use to provide protection:

Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks

The emergence of a pandemic affecting the respiratory system can result in a significant demand for face masks. This includes the use of cloth masks by large sections of the public, as can be seen during the current global spread of COVID-19.

What it finds is fairly straightforward, and what you would expect. Fit matters – we are fighting an airborne disease, so surgical style masks with the loose sides, or bandannas, while better than nothing lose a lot of their protective power due to the air freely flowing in and out the sides. The study finds that the best homemade masks are tight-fitting, made of three or more layers, and alternate material – preferably with one synthetic or tight woven layer in the middle: Cotton – silk – cotton, or cotton – chiffon – cotton.

You can add anti-microbial activity using fabrics treated with Silvadur, which we use for our Silver Linings Masks. We researched the available materials and found the most useful common ones: cotton, silk/synthetic silk, chiffon, flannel, sew-in and fusible interfacing, HEPA filtration materials, and tight woven synthetic fabrics. Our current design comes in two flavors – cotton, zorb, cotton – which makes for a thick and warm mask. For a thin but effective mask design, we are using – cotton, non-woven interfacing, and a final layer of silver treated polyester. We also create a filter pocket with the back layer, allowing for an additional filter to be placed in the mask by the wearer for extra protection. The smaller sleeve is for a nose wire, we’ve found thick pipe cleaner to work well and be soft on the nose. The nose wire is necessary to fit the form of the face with an effective seal.

Back side, filter pocket, nose wire insertion point

For fit, we found many patterns to choose from, and they are not created equal. Many of the patterns have drawbacks that make them uncomfortable, unsealed, and challenging to keep in place. After a lot of experimentation, we found the pattern by an engineer, Jesse Killion, which comes in 8 sizes. The sizing makes it easier to fit the different face sizes. We’ve been experimenting with altering his pattern in a few different ways. You should feel free to experiment and come up with the pattern that fits you and your families face type best. The main things about shape are – when the cut goes too far below the chin, it tends to pull the mask down while talking. The center top of the mask needs to sit high on the nose bridge to keep the mask up. While Jesse’s pattern works well with head straps (which was how he designed it), we found the pattern didn’t work as well with ear loops. We are currently still making prototypes with Jesse’s pattern to decide if or how it should be altered.

Many people want masks with quick remove earloops, which are ok for short term wear but head straps are better for longer-term wear. Loops can make the ears sore after a while and the ears also can’t hold the mask in place as well as the straps that tie behind your head. For masks that people will wear throughout the day, we strongly recommend head straps with either elastic or knit jersey ties. The head straps allow you to secure the mask in place flat and secure, preventing leakage.

Lastly, we focused on aesthetics. It’s great to have a mask that fits well, and filters >80% of particles <300 nm. But, for us to control this virus, we need people to wear them. We wanted to make something that looks fashionable in addition to following the best science for protection. We use Spoonflower and Wazoodle for quality fabrics and prints to put some fun into the masks. Both companies make fabrics in the USA with sustainable eco practices. The results are high-quality masks that work as a filter, are correctly fitted, and attractive enough that people don’t mind wearing them. We are doing our best to make as many of them as possible, and we hope others do too. 1/12th, the infection rate we currently have would save countless lives going forward.

So do your part, and help spread the word:


Finished Silver Linings Mask

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