So now they say we should wear masks..
April 1, 2020 5:47 AM   Subscribe

It seems that we should be wearing masks. I don't have any, and I don't sew. Where can I get some?

Obviously, all the front-line people should be the priority for medical-grade masks, but I am seeing instructions on DIY masks for the rest of us. If I need to rip up tea towels and hand sew some, I will, but I wondered if there are organizations or even out-of-work freelancers who are making the at-home kind. I checked Etsy, and there are a bunch, but I'm not clear which designs/materials are the best.

Can you point me to any reliable sources?

If it makes any difference, I'm in NYC.
posted by AMyNameIs to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Here are instructions for a no-sew mask.
posted by mareli at 6:06 AM on April 1, 2020 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like the recommendation might be more "cover your face securely" than "get a medical grade mask" - i.e., if you have a light scarf/bandana/etc that you can securely tie over your nose and mouth, making sure there are no gaps, then for the average person running to the store you're preventing/minimizing any viral particles (if you're a carrier) from transferring to others.

“Note: During a public health emergency, face masks may be reserved for health care workers. You may need to improvise a face mask using a scarf or bandana.”
posted by DoubleLune at 6:15 AM on April 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm thinking maybe t-shirt material would work better than the bandanna in link above. It's stretchier and will conform better to your face.
posted by mareli at 6:16 AM on April 1, 2020

This link (which pretties up a Cambridge study) says pillow case and 100% cotton t-shirt for breathability/blockage.

I think a pillow case might be best combining with the no-sew option. You can make a ton of masks with an old pillow casecloth, throw them in a bag after every use and wash them en masse when you do your laundry.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:32 AM on April 1, 2020

Please do not use a t-shirt if you have a choice; cloth for homemade masks should be woven and not knit. Bedsheets are a much better choice.
posted by emkelley at 6:36 AM on April 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

A fabric artist (?) i follow our of SF has repurposed her sewing/embroidery set up to make masks, shes on instagram as @sew_frisco obviously not local to NYC but shes maybe more worth supporting than just a random etsy link?

I know some other folks locally (NYC) who are sewing masks but they are focused on donating them to hospitals (something im seeing a variety of opinions on) so you may have better luck w a diy option.

Its getting pretty close to not-answering, but the best thing you could be doing right now, exposure-wise, has nothing to do with a mask. please please please minimize your contact with other people as much as your circumstances allow - no need to wear a mask if your away from other people, which ideally you should be as much as possible for the foreseeable future.

yours in solidarity,
another nyer stuck inside.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:00 AM on April 1, 2020

How to make your own mask: Hong Kong scientists reveal temporary solution for those unable to get protective gear South China Morning Post on an improvisation from City University Honk Kong

Kitchen roll, tissue paper, masking tape, elastic bands, sheet of clear plastic
posted by glasseyes at 7:27 AM on April 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

The problem with a mask that conforms to the shape of your face by stretching the knit fabric is that it has then enlarged the holes between the fibres. You want it to bunch up thicker, not to stretch thinner to conform to your face. I'd suggest experimenting at home with a bandit-holding-up-a-train mask made out of woven fabric with a piece of elastic inside it. You can cannibalize a pair of underpants for the waistband elastic and a cotton pillow case for the woven fabric.

A really long bandanna will have a tail that you can tuck into a jacket collar to keep the droplets in your breath from getting out under the dangling tail. Don't cut your fabric too small. If it is not going to be fitted by sewing it you want it really long.

Hold your potential mask fabric up to the light to make sure it is tightly woven enough. There is a lot of cheap fabric out there that doesn't hold much moisture in. You can test it in the sink to see if it will contain water or if the water just pours right through. If the water goes right through it will be quite easy to breathe through it, but not much use as a mask. You need to aim for as much ability to hold in the water as you can stand to breathe through. Remember with a bandana style mask it will be double thick so take that into account.

Test this guy at home for a couple of hours and see how comfortable you are wearing it. Since you want to improvise something you can wear for long periods of time without it falling off and without being desperate to rip it off because you are not getting enough air, it is a good idea to try it for an extended period while walking around and doing stuff, at the same activity level you would while running errands.

It is a good idea to make a spare, in case you need to go out twice in the same day. There is a good chance your mask is going to evolve over the next few days, or even weeks, so go ahead and experiment. You'll figure out ways to make it fit better and still work as you go along. One advantage to no sew masks it that you don't run any risk of making one and then discovering it doesn't actually fit and is no use to you.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:30 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

More information and links to instructions are available in this FPP: Asks for Masks, and this AskMe: So - tell me about wearing masks
posted by katra at 9:19 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you're on the smaller side I have a couple woven cotton cloth masks that I sewed recently to test a pattern that are a bit on the small side for me (larger adult, 5'9" plus size woman) that I can mail you.
posted by brilliantine at 9:21 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I looked up the meanings of N95 and vacuum-cleaner HEPA standards. They appear to be the same, at least for "true HEPA." They are both supposed to filter out 90-95% of particles down to 0.3 micron. "HEPA-type" filters only filter out 85-90% of such particles. I don't know if it would be difficult to breathe through a vacuum-cleaner filter.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:48 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I got mine from here within 3-4 days. These are just simple woven cloth masks but they seem reasonably well-made and fit "well" (that is, no seal but the elastic keeps it on the face fine), if you find the idea of making your own daunting. Again, these are not N95s nor surgical masks, just cloth for people for whom that's the only practical option and who aren't into McGuyvering their own.
posted by praemunire at 10:54 AM on April 1, 2020

2 bandanas, or 2 pieces of fabric (not lightweight) can be folded together to make your mask a bit more effective. You could pin a coffee filter or paper towel into the middle with a safety pin.
posted by theora55 at 10:58 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Which DIY mask pattern should you use? Even experts can’t pick one to recommend. (WaPo)
When selecting material, a trade-off must be made between filtration efficiency and breathability. Vacuum bags are highly effective filters, according to a document put out by the Stanford Anesthetics Informatics and Media Lab, but may not be a good choice because of the effort required to breathe through them. Paper towels and wet wipes are too porous and are of little use.

[...] Peter Tsai, the materials scientist who invented the electrostatic charging technology that N95 masks — the highest-quality medical masks on the market — rely on, also believes that homemade masks are an important part of the United States’ battle against the coronavirus. He offered another material for DIY mask makers to consider: nonwoven fabrics. Not all nonwoven fabrics are ideal for masks. Wet wipes are made of nonwoven fabric but are too porous, Tsai said. Vacuum bags are also generally made of nonwoven fabric but are not breathable.

Tsai recommended using car shop towels as mask material. The towels, available in rolls and often blue in color, would do a better job of filtering droplets than cloth, he said. The material is “very strong,” he said. “And it can be washed with soap and water and reused.” There are YouTube videos that offer tutorials on using this material.
posted by katra at 1:50 PM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good links and advice.

To be clear, I'm staying in my apartment, doing all my socializing online, and not looking to take anything away from medical people. Going outside is limited to grocery shopping as infrequently as possible and taking solo walks to get some air.

praemunire, I clicked on the link, and it goes to the site, but they don't seem to have anything in stock. I guess word has gotten out.
brilliantine, thank you for the generous offer.
Exceptional_Hubris, solidarity to you, too. Who would have thought being able to complain about the subway would be something to look forward to?

I found some bandanas, and I'm going to try them out tomorrow for my walk.

Stay safe, everyone.
posted by AMyNameIs at 6:48 PM on April 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

Hey, AMyNameIs, they still have a few of the "N95 mask covers," which they say can also be worn by themselves (honestly they look the same as the ones I have).
posted by praemunire at 10:09 AM on April 2, 2020

@praemunire - did you get the kits from that site or were the masks ready? All I can see now are "kits" and we are a little intimidated at what assembly might be like. (Thanks)
posted by getawaysticks at 5:21 PM on April 5, 2020

Here's the CDC's guidelines. (Their t-shirt option seems kinda thin and didn't work for me.)
posted by booth at 6:00 AM on April 9, 2020

This testing feels scientific:

"The researchers used an aerosol mixing chamber to produce particles ranging from 10 nm to 6 μm in diameter. A fan blew the aerosol across various cloth samples at an airflow rate corresponding to a person's respiration at rest, and the team measured the number and size of particles in air before and after passing through the fabric. One layer of a tightly woven cotton sheet combined with two layers of polyester-spandex chiffon -- a sheer fabric often used in evening gowns -- filtered out the most aerosol particles (80-99%, depending on particle size), with performance close to that of an N95 mask material. Substituting the chiffon with natural silk or flannel, or simply using a cotton quilt with cotton-polyester batting, produced similar results."
posted by mecran01 at 12:13 PM on May 29, 2020

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