A Guide to Fabric Face Coverings: Making, Wearing, and Caring for Your Mask

I was heavily resisting sewing masks for lots of different reasons, but now it appears fabric masks can serve a preventative purpose (by preventing an asymptomatic mask-wearer from spreading to others as well as by preventing them from touching their faces which is a known method of transmission).

As I do with nearly everything, I over-researched. So as not to waste all of my valuable research time, I’ve compiled the cliff notes to share!

This post is heavy on tips for wearing and caring for your fabric face covering. I share a few no-sew patterns in this post but will be sharing a longer, more detailed post soon that will be full of face mask patterns to sew along with more tips/tricks and recommendations – so stay tuned!

What fabric should I use?

The consensus seems to be 100% cotton. Tightly woven threads are the goal.

Will your material suffice?

Fold your chosen material (so it is doubled to create 2 layers) and hold it up to a source of light – if it’s letting light through, find something more opaque.

What not to use

Do NOT use knit fabric – if it’s stretchy, put it aside to use for ties (do not use as your main mask material). Knit fabric is more loosely woven and will allow the coronavirus to easily pass through.

Preparing your fabric

Before cutting and sewing your fabric, make sure it has been laundered in the same manner in which you intend to launder your mask in the future. I suggest washing your fabric on the hottest cycles in your regular washing machine (and dryer) to prepare it.

I highly recommend tossing it into the dryer even if you don’t intend to do so later to ensure any shrinkage of fabric has taken place before sewing (there’s not much worse than working hard on a project for it to shrink later becoming unwearable).

Potential material to use:

  • Bedsheets or pillowcases
  • 100% cotton dress shirts
  • old pants (jeans, khakis, etc.)
  • Flannel pajamas
  • Tea towels

Materials i used

I used an old pair of pajama pants my Dad donated to my stash for an inner “filter” layer in a few masks early on. The 3 layers of fabric ended up being a little too bulky so later I switched to using the flannel as the interior fabric with cotton outer fabric (for just 2 layers of fabric).

Here’s a sample where I add a layer of flannel to the interior to act as a “filter.”

Most of the masks I made used 100% cotton dress shirts that had been donated to my stash and some other scrap fabric (mostly quilting cotton).

By using old clothes for mask-making, you can add two highly brag-worthy productivity items to your quarantine list: 1) you’re Marie-Kondo’ing your closet, 2) you’re saving the world one upcycled fabric mask at a time.

Ok, good luck with this tip! 😉

Resources for material recommendations

The best-performing design was constructed of two layers of high-quality, heavyweight “quilter’s cotton” with a thread count of 180 or more, and those with especially tight weave and thicker thread such as batiks. A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and an inner layer of flannel also performed well.

  • When made with the best quality material, homemade masks can be as good as surgical masks or even slightly better in regards to filtration (NY Times).
  • Another study found that a layer of tightly woven cotton with two layers of chiffon was the most effective (filtering out 80–99% of the particles – making it comparable to an N95 mask). Combining cotton with a fabric that can hold an electric charge (like silk) can provide a double barrier: mechanical and electrostatic.
  • This study found that canvas performed well!
  • From jeans to bra pads, this list of materials tested for DIY masks is quite thorough.

What mask pattern should I use?

There’s no consensus here – everyone likes something different so it may be worth trying a few different versions.

No sewing skills? No problem!

Not a great sewist but you’ve got a machine or feel comfortable hand-stitching?

Want to sew your own?

Go for it! There are tons of sewing-based mask tutorials available right now along with loads of free patterns. I will be sharing my review of a few I’ve tried in a forthcoming post (stay tuned!).

One of the masks I made for myself using Made Everyday’s tutorial.

How to wear your mask

Since most of us are not mask-wearing experts, a better understanding of how to wear them effectively is key!

Your mask’s fit will impact its effectiveness

One study implied that “gaps (as caused by an improper fit of the mask) can result in over a 60% decrease in the filtration efficiency.”

In short, your mask needs to fit snug around your face – starting at the bridge of your nose down to your chin. The sides of the mask should reach half-way to your ears. Any gaping will allow air to flow around your mask which could defeat the purpose (allowing particles in and out).

resources for mask-wearing best practices

Caring for Your Fabric Mask

While fabric masks should be washed after every use, note that repeated washing will break down fabric over time so the effectiveness of fabric masks is naturally going to decrease ever-so-slightly with each wash – they are not meant to last an eternity (and by golly I hope we won’t be wearing them for eternity!).

Hand-washing your fabric mask and hanging to dry is an option. If you take this route (which will be gentler on your material), I would recommend applying a hot iron after it has dried completely not only to get wrinkles out but to steam out any lingering germs 😉

Additionally, bleach can also break fabric down so avoid using it if possible.

Tip: Keep a bag in your car (a plastic sealed bag is best) to place your mask after use.

Also, since your beautiful smile can on longer be seen by others when you are wearing your mask: Practice your SMIZE!!

Author: Jordan Slice-Metcalfe

My name is Jordan. I'm a full-time working mom whose coffee cup is always half full (and probably still in the microwave). I've got a weak spot for rescuing old dogs, pretending pizza is a vegetable, negotiating dessert with every meal, propagating more plants than any home needs, dreaming of sewing projects while my husband is talking to me, and loving my tribe too deep.

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