Now that community transmission of coronavirus has taken hold in Australia, face masks are in demand and may be compulsory where you live. If you don’t want to buy face masks you can make your own cloth masks. Cloth masks can be washed and reused.

Face masks provide a physical barrier between the wearer and other people. They can stop the wearer’s respiratory emissions from reaching other people and so reduce the spread of virus to uninfected people. They also can protect the wearer themselves to some degree from large respiratory droplets that other people may emit.

Face masks and other coverings have been shown to reduce spread of coronavirus and experts say any type of cloth face mask is better than a bare face. People who have COVID-19 may not have any symptoms, so by wearing masks we can reduce community transmission.

Face masks should be used in conjunction with other measures, such as social distancing, hand hygiene, staying home when sick and testing. At the very least, face masks are encouraged on public transport, situations where you can’t socially distance, and for people who are unwell, or who are going for testing.

How many layers should a cloth face mask have?

Multiple layer masks have been shown to provide greater protection than a single layer. The World Health Organization recommends a multi-layer mask with a pocket for a removable filter. The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services recommends a 3-layer cloth mask.

You can also make a cloth face mask with 2 layers of fabric that has a pocket for a disposable filter. That way you can throw away the filter and wash the mask before replacing it with a new filter.

What type of fabric can you use for a cloth face mask?

Use new fabric and wash it first to ensure it doesn’t shrink after you’ve made the mask.

  • Cotton is a good fabric to use, and a thread count of 120-700 has been shown to be effective. Cotton is good for the inner layer.
  • Pure polyester is not recommended as it is difficult to breathe through.
  • A cotton/polyester mix is a reasonable choice for the middle layer.
  • Some mask designs use a water-resistant outer layer, such as polyester.

What do you need to make a cloth face mask?

To make your own face mask you will need:

  • Fabric for the layers. You will need at least 2 pieces of new fabric 25 cm x 25 cm. Using new fabric will ensure the materials are intact and there are no holes or thin patches.
  • Ear loops. These need to be approximately 20 cm long each. You can use shoelaces, elastic, string, elastic hair bands or something similar. Alternatively, you can make ties, although this may make the mask be more fiddly to put on and take off. Try to use something that will be comfortable to wear for long periods and that won’t stretch over time. Ties are often said to be more comfortable than ear loops.
  • Optional removable filter. The filtration efficiency of cloth masks can be improved by having an inbuilt filter. Even one layer of tissue paper can improve the filtration of the mask by nearly 9 per cent. Two layers of kitchen roll paper makes a substantial difference to the efficiency of the mask, improving it by 90 per cent. HEPA filters are NOT recommended as they may contain fibreglass. Remove your filter and dispose of it before washing the mask.
  • Optional nose piece. You can sew in a bendable nose piece, which will help the mask fit better over the bridge of your nose. It could also potentially help if you have problems with your glasses fogging up.

Design of cloth face masks

There are many patterns for cloth face masks online. A pleated design with a filter pocket should be comfortable and easy to use. Additional options include a nose bridge. The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has a design for a 3-layer cloth mask.

A very simple design has no pleats and 2 stitched channels 1.5 cm wide at either side for the fabric for the ear loops.

How to ensure a good fit

A face mask should cover your mouth and nose. Your chin should be covered so you get a good seal around your mouth. The mask should fit comfortably on the bridge of the nose. It should also fit snugly against the sides of the face. You should be able to breathe without restriction or feeling that you are being suffocated.

How to stop your glasses fogging up

You may find your eye glasses fogging up when you wear a face mask. Ensuring a tight fit of your mask will help prevent fogging. Having an adjustable nosepiece may help with this by preventing your breath steaming up your glasses. Or you can use a small piece of surgical tape to fix the mask to the bridge of your nose.

You can also try cleaning the lenses of your glasses with the recommended spray, or use a small drop of washing-up liquid to rub on the lenses, then rinse off.

How often should I wash my cloth face mask?

Cloth face masks should be washed after every day of use. If you use a mask only for your morning and evening commutes, but not while you are at work, you will need separate cloth masks for each journey. Take the mask for your homeward journey to work with you in a clean plastic bag.

Once you have removed a mask it should be placed in a plastic bag until it is washed. Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth, or the mask, when removing the mask, and make sure you perform hand hygiene after removal. The mask should be washed on a hot wash and dried completely. Remove the filter and dispose of it safely before you wash the mask.

Take notice of the condition of your cloth face mask. Over time the fabric may become thinner or compromised and the mask should be replaced with a new one.

How can I volunteer to make masks?

If you would like to volunteer to make masks for people who need them, visit Masks for Mates.

Last Reviewed: 23/07/2020

myDr



References

1. Masks for Aussies. How to make cloth face masks. https://www.masksforaussies.com/how-to-make-cloth-face-masks/#fabric-recommendations
2. Victoria State Government. How to make a cloth mask. 13 July 2020. https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/202007/Design%20and%20preparation%20of%20cloth%20mask_0.pdf
3. Konda A, Prakash A, Moss GA, Schmoldt M, Grant GD, Guha S. Aerosol filtration efficiency of common fabrics used in respiratory cloth masks. ACS Nano. 2020;14:6339–47.

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