DIY Medical Face Masks to Sew

This is your ultimate guide to making fabric face masks for yourself, your family or to donate to hospitals and other essential workers.

the ultimate guide to making fabric face masks

There is a shortage of medical face masks. Hospitals are in desperate need of face masks for medical care professionals. If you are staying at home during this crazy time and know how to sew, you can use your time and skills for the greater good by sewing fabric face masks and donating them to your local hospital.

When I read this article, I knew it was something I could help with. I plan to put my fabric stash to good use to help my local hospital prepare for the influx of patients they expect in the coming weeks.

Fabric face masks do not replace medical grade face masks. However, because of the shortage, many hospitals are using them in non-critical areas of the hospital or they are being layered with a medical grade mask.

The CDC is now asking people to wear fabric face masks when they leave home to go about their essential errands like grocery shopping. That means you should make several masks for each member of your family. DO NOT use N-95’s or medical grade masks. Please save those for healthcare workers who are directly in contact with affected patients.

Read the CDC’s guidelines for fabric masks here. In summary, a face mask should meet these requirements:

— Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
— Be secured with ties or ear loops
— Include multiple layers of fabric
— Allow for breathing without restriction

Here is what a friend (whose husband is a doctor) had to say after making a batch of masks to donate:

 Hubby got his first round of handmade face masks at his ER yesterday. This IS helpful and also helps raise morale at the ER, because they feel they aren’t facing this alone. But! Here’s some feedback I hope will be helpful.

1. They need to be slightly wider (taller vertically!) so they can reach from above the nose to below the chin.
2. If you can vary the sizing on the ones you make, that’s helpful. The ones delivered fit some people. But some docs like my hubby are bigger. Many nurses have quite small faces. So maybe size your pattern up and down so you have small medium and large if you can.
3. The masks he got had elastic that went around the ears. These have a lot of fit restrictions. If you can do ties behind the head, they will fit way more people.

Without a good fit, they aren’t helpful. ❤️

You people doing this—your efforts are appreciated! In many places the docs are allowed ONE disposable face mask per day. Within 3 hours, my husband’s has stretched and is useless (the mask worn over the N95) and handmade masks would be great replacements. (And they need to be washable so they can reuse them).

Most mask patterns I’m seeing are the same size: 6″x9″, so it might be good to vary the sizes a bit so doctors and nurses can choose one that fits them best.

Before you begin sewing, call your local hospital to see if they accept donations of fabric masks and to find out any specific requirements they might have. 

PHD students from the UC Berkeley School of Public health have compiled a list of hospitals accepting donations of homemade masks. It is organized by state and is being updated frequently.

JOANN Stores are donating supplies to make masks. You can learn about that here.

Michaels Stores have also created a DIY face mask landing page with tutorials, links to supplies and lots of great info.

Many healthcare professionals have sore ears from where the mask elastic rubs. These simple DIY ear savers are a great item to donate along with fabric masks.

MATERIALS NEEDED TO MAKE FACE MASKS

What Fabric Should I Use to Sew a Face Mask?

Face masks should be made from high quality, tightly woven 100% cotton material. If you don’t have quilter’s fabric at home, here are some other materials you can use:

  • T-shirts
  • Cotton Pillowcases or Sheets (not microfiber)
  • Bandanas
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Cotton Flour Sack Towels

What Material Can I Use to Add A Flexible Nose?

Adding a flexible nose to masks makes them more comfortable and improves the fit substantially, therefore increasing effectiveness. Here are some materials you can use:

  • Twist Ties
  • Florist Wire
  • Chenille Stems (AKA Pipe Cleaners)
  • Jewelry Wire (lightweight)

If you want to add a flexible nose to masks you’ve already sewn, you can whipstitch a piece of pipe cleaner right on top, like this:

easy flexible nose mask idea

It’s not pretty, but it works really well!

Do I Need to Add a Filter to My Fabric Face Mask?

Not really! Two layers of cotton fabric have been shown to be 74% effective at filtering the air, so most scientists say that is good enough for people to use while running essential errands. [Source]

What Filter Material Should I use to Sew a Face Mask?

Although not essential, if you would like to add a filter to your masks, here are some of the materials you could use and a note about effectiveness and comfort for each material:

  • Pellon Interfacing – sold out in most stores and hard to breath through
  • Coffee Filters – hard to breath through but widely available
  • Vacuum Bag Hepa Filters – hard to breath through and limited availability
  • Quilter’s Batting – hot to wear
  • HVAC system filters – readily available at hardware stores, but the manufacturers do not recommend using them for face masks [source
  • Reusable Shopping Bags or Oly-fun Fabric – Still widely available, inexpensive and breathability is okay
  • Paper Towels – Not found to be super effective

Conclusion: Two layers of cotton material are sufficient. The fit of the mask is more important to its effectiveness than including a filter.

fabric medical masks to sew

Watch this FACE MASK SHOWDOWN VIDEO to help you see the different masks and how they fit:

 

FABRIC FACE MASK TUTORIALS AND PATTERNS

Click on any of the numbered titles below to see the full tutorials.

Fabric Face Masks with Elastic

  1. Face Mask with Elastic Loops

    This is the most basic medical face mask pattern with two loops of elastic that slip over the ears. Even if you are a beginner sewist, you can handle this pattern. It includes a video tutorial to walk you through every step. I suggest adding an extra inch or two to make this mask cover better.

  2. Center Seam Shaped Face Mask

    This mask features side elastic ear loops, but instead of a pleated mask, the fabric is cut into an ergonomic shape designed to comfortably fit over the nose. It also features a pocket to insert a medical grade mask inside. This pattern also comes in several sizes geared for children and adults.

  3. Face Mask Picture Tutorial

    This face mask features contrasting trim along the two outside edges, which gives the mask a nice finished look and would probably help keep the elastic secure. The tutorial has great step-by-step photos too.

  4. Basic Pleated Mask

    This is the same basic mask as #1 but it has a nice Youtube video tutorial and sometimes it’s nice to hear things explained two different ways.

  5. Star Wars Face Mask

    This mask gets points for style. See how to make a mask that looks like a Storm Trooper! With so much stress and sadness, I mean… why not?!

Fabric Face Masks with Ties

  1. Medical Face Mask with Ties 

    Created by a nurse, this pattern doesn’t require elastic. Nurses say they prefer tie masks because they are more adjustable than elastic and more comfortable to wear for long periods. The page includes a free printable pattern and good instructions.

  2. Face Mask With Flexible Nose and Bias Tape Ties

    This mask would probably be the most comfortable for healthcare workers to use because it features a bendable wire piece in the nose to help it keep its shape and bias tape ties to help customize fit.

  3. Cricut Face Mask

    Save some time and use your Cricut Maker to cut out the pattern pieces.

  4. Face Mask with Filter Pocket

    This mask tutorial and pattern has a pocket for filters and features fabric ties instead of elastic. When completed, it is a three layer mask, even without a filter.

No-Sew Face Mask Tutorials

  1. No Sew Bandana Face Mask

    If you can’t sew, try this video tutorial that uses a bandana and hot glue and features a filter pocket and flexible wire nose.

  2. No Sew T-Shirt Face Mask

    Turn a t-shirt into a face mask with just a few cuts of the scissors. This is actually a genius method!

  3. T-Shirt Face Mask with Hair Ties

    Turn a t-shirt into a face mask using safety pins and hair elastics.

Fabric Face Masks for Children

I do not recommend using any filter material for children because they may not be aware enough of their oxygen intake. I also do not recommend taking your children in public unless absolutely unavoidable.

Any of the mask patterns listed above can be re-sized to fit children. That being said, here are some patterns made specifically for children.

  1. Child Sized Fitted Mask

    This is the classic Olson Face Mask with sizing for children. It’s a fitted, shaped mask with elastic ties.

  2. Gathered Sides Child Face Mask

    This mask is appropriately sized for a child, has gathered sides and uses corded elastic to be gentler on little ears.

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So there you go… several different medical face mask tutorials for you to pick from. 

Remember that the most important thing you can do to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home. If you must go out for essential errands, wear a mask and practice social distancing measures of keeping 6 feet apart.

Stay home and help essential workers stay safer!

diy medical face masks

To doctors, nurses, hospital staff, first responders and all of those individuals who are working tirelessly to care for others, THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Hang in there during this crazy time. Even though we’re apart, we’re in this together.

Disclosure: I am not a medical professional and cannot offer medical advice. Use these masks at your own risk. 

70 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a RN and I’m concerned that this gives a false sense of security, the face masks that the medical community use have to meet specific standards to be effective against pathogens, have you checked with the CDC?? If not you probably should. Don’t get me wrong it’s a wonderful idea, just concerned for everyones safety! Thank you! 😷

    • The medical community already knows that these are not what they need. But those of us who need to go to the store or deliver food or whatever to family and neighbors appreciate her instructions for making these. We are all doing the best we can to bring SOMETHING to those who do not have the best because they should go to those on the front lines.

    • Call your local hospitals, nursing homes or home health facilities to find out if they are accepting donations and what their specifications or needs are.

    • Please consider donating mask to the area homeless shelters for their staff and clients. Many of who are still open and desperately need help.

  2. Hello, i want make masks, but a read that the fabric mask don’t protect of vírus… 🤔
    But you say that doctors are using cotton masks on hospitals … I really don’t understant what is true and what is not…🤔

    • A cotton fabric mask alone does not protect against the virus. They must be worn in conjunction with a medical grade N95 mask. These fabric masks are designed to help the medical grade masks last longer. They can also be worn in non-critical areas of the hospital or as a last resort if no other options are available.

    • I have been told by nurses that I know that they’re cutting up hospital dressing gowns and bed sheets and tying them around their faces because they don’t have enough N95 masks. In this case, a homemade face mask is better than nothing in my opinion; especially one with a flexible nose as this tutorial shows, and a pocket for some sort of filter. I thought about an air conditioner or heater filter. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

      • Yes, you can use a furnace filter for the n95. It must be at lease a #10 filter for viruses. Cut the filter apart, remove the “chicken wire” over it and iron out the accordion type filter filler to use as the middle layer of your mask. These also must have some type of metal wire for the nose. The duck bill pattern is usually used to cover the whole face; you can google it.

        • You can use a HEPA vacuum bag to make the filters. There are a few YouTube videos that show how to Akron them. If you are a mask with an insertable filter, yucas then wash the masks and put in a clean filter. Just ale the filters are HEPA with a 97% filtration rating

      • One video I saw was by a doctor. He used a vacuum cleaner HEPA filter and got 4 of the “cone shaped” masks out of 1 bag. Great idea but all of our vacuum cleaners are bagless. I’m just using non-woven interfacing that I already have along with the front and back made with quilters cotton fabric because that’s what I have.

      • Dollar Store brand (DG) mini pads. 20 for $1.00. You can breath through them and they self-adhere. No one is the wiser.

    • Get drapery interlining in the decor dpt at fabric stores. This is considered a filter. Its a very thin flannel type fabric. It’s also washable. Hooray to all of us seamstresses that can sew make lil money and/or donate. Good luck.

    • These masks are designed to be worn with an N95 mask to make the medical grade mask last longer. They are not meant to be worn alone.

    • Any ideas on a filter idea? Felt, coffee filter, air conditioning filter cut apart? Anything else?? What would be best if medical grade aren’t available for sale

      • I’m sorry Jan, I can’t offer medical advice. These masks should be worn with a medical grade mask if you truly want protection from the virus. I have heard of people cutting apart HEPA filters meant to be used in HVAC systems, but I cannot vouch for the effectiveness.

      • You can use NON WOVEN interfacing in the interior of the face mask, which will make it harder for the tiny virus to pass through. While non N95 masks do not protect you from others that well, they do a much better job of protecting others from you. If EVERYONE wore them when they needed to go out, we would all be safer from each other. Start a fad and reduce the stigma of wearing them. Watch the video made by Dr. David Price, a criticalcare pulmonologist caring for COVID-19 patients all day at Weill Cornell Hospital,which has the largest # of Covid-19 patients in NYC. Just google it.

  3. Perfect to stop people from touching their faces. This is the reason we also wearing masks at the moment. Masks, hand washing and social distancing. I work in a vet clinic and we have many safety measures in place.. and also a shortage of surgical grade masks so this is perfect for me to stop me touching my face!

    • I wouldn’t recommend felt. It’d be hot and hard to breath through. Also, hospitals need to be able to wash the masks over and over again, so I don’t think felt would hold up well.

      • I made mine with a felt filter. It wasn’t that hot wearing. I have also washed both the filter and the mask. Dried at high temp. For at least 1 hour.

  4. From the studies I have read these masks are not as effective as medical grade. But some places are facing shortages of masks. Any mask is better than none and certain fabrics and constructions do prevent mopre than 50% of the viruse. Not ideal but if there are none it is better than nothing.

  5. In my experience, I hate surgical masks that loop over the ears – they hurt the ears and don’t fit well. Masks with ties can be adjusted and are much more comfortable when worn for several hours. Pleated masks are best. Before the disposable surgical masks were made we wore cotton masks made of several layers of thin cotton.

  6. Those of you making masks with fabric self ties or with bias tape: how long are you making the ties? All the patterns I have found show elastic loops.

    • I made a bunch with 18″ ties for men’s, 16″ for women’s, and 14″ for children’s. The men’s and women’s were both good at those lengths, but I’ll be making 15″ for the children’s from now on, so that the older kids have an easier time tying themselves.

    • I ordered shoe strings on Amazon because I can’t find elastic. Work great. You can also make ties from TShirts. Ripe them 2 inches wide. Pull on them, wala, great ties.

  7. Recommended by veteran drs they said cotton masks were used in the past. The important part is being able to add a non-woven fabric to the center. They suggested in the article using wet tissues that were dried, but using toilet paper is fine too. Also recommended “non-woven cloth” found in rags, diapers, gauze, wet tissues, tampons as filters too. I found that interfacing is a non woven fabric so I was going to add that as an internal sewn in 3rd layer. Most masks only use two layers of cotton.

  8. Here’s what I’ve heard. My sister is a nurse. St her hospital staff on non covid units get one surgical mask per day. If these get wet they are trash. I’m sewing extras for her to have when her allotted mask is trashed. Non covid floors are not necessarily safe from covid. pre-symptomatic people are all around. She has a handful of n95 masks she will reuse and wants the home sewn ones to go over those. That’s why it’s important to call your local hospital before donating. Or find medical professionals you know who want them and donate directly. Hang tough

  9. A nurse suggested using non woven interfacing as a filter. Sew it into mask as middle layer. I also used string due to lack of elastic. I made them so can adjust string to each ear for each person. I used soft cotton thread but it will not wear well. I have very small nylon string but dont know I’d will stay tied.

  10. Sew pipe cleaner along top before turning right side out. Forms around nose tight and already padded for comfort. Game changer for Evansville. Makes mask form fit to face, much safer than gaps from flat fabric only.

  11. I have been sewing masks for Joann’s.However, everyone has run out of fusible interfacing and elastic. I came across a dust ruffle I have and the “platform” part is made from olefin. It looks exactly like interfacing. Does anyone know if this would be safe to use (sew) inside a DIY mask? Thanks!

    • did you ever get a response on this…I found a bed skirt with the olefin..would like to know if it would be safe to sew inside a DiY mask..thank you

  12. If I may make a couple of suggestions.
    1. A pipe cleaner or twist tie sewn into the top will allow you to mold it to the nose/face better.
    2. Be sure to leave an opening where a filter can be placed in the mask if available.

  13. N95s are hot and uncomfortable, very uncomfortable at the start, you get accustomed to it. The pipe cleaner idea is genius because I see people with masks with a big space on either side of their nose. You really need to fit that or the mask is much less helpful. Also, your masks are photographed upside down, the pleats go down. Just so people aren’t confused. I think with HEPA vacuum cleaner bag lining that you could change out and a really tight fit, your mask would work great.

  14. If you use pipe cleaners for molding around the nose, the metal will rust eventually (but the mask may have served its purpose by then).
    Coated florist wire works too.
    Thanks to all contributing to the effort!

  15. Teach people how to use the masks. The reasoning behind the protocols, handwashing, not touching outside of masks, washing them., etc. Lets Stop trying to control who wears them because of the fear of them not doing it right.’ Let people be responsible and make up their own mind. Nothing is ever perfect.

  16. HEPA vacuum bags [not to be confused with all HEPA filtration as it’s a standard not a type of material] typically contain glass microfibers which can cause respiratory irritation and other issues. Stick to filters made of plastic, cellulose, and organic materials. Melt-blown fabric is a very common breathable filter material for surgical masks. And, folks, wearing a mask in public better protects others from your respiratory droplets than you from others. By having everyone masked there’s less transmission potential as long as you handle and clean the mask carefully and wash your hands.

  17. I want to thank you for this post. as I sew and craft it is wonderfully done. I am sorry to see that some think it is bad and giving people a false sense of security the facts are this will it help to cover ones own moth and nose yes. Something people can do to avoid sharing their germs with others well done. all the masks I have made and am making are for my business alone and whom I give them to once agian my business. I also use a filter fabric.

    • If you can’t have the metal nose piece, I would recommend the shaped masks. They seem to sit tighter across the nose, even without the help of the metal.

  18. I haven’t finished readying ALL the replies but let me interject just for a moment. Since the states, Feds – well Anthony Fauci is who I go with… are not asking the general population to wear N95 or even two sided with opening or envelope pillow type mask to insert a HEPA filter. Those of us who are making masks to wear are doing so because we are either encouraged to and/ or must my under order now. What we will/ are sewing will HELP protect, to lessor and greater degrees, the person on the OTHER side of OUR mask – who may NOT be wearing a mask, OR even if they wear a mask we will not be protecting OURSELVES from the coronavirus. In essence we are being good citizens to help contain the spread of coronavirus. ASYMPTOMATIC, (show no signs or symptoms having this virus), but would test Covid-19 POSITIVE but have no clue… say they wear a mask, then it is for all of our benefit who do NOT have coronavirus, (thus far). So to all of our great extraordinary Nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers – at least I certainly know these masks are NOT what you need to stay safe. If it were within our ability / skill and could be trained to make ones with HEPA filters inserted that would give you a degree of protection from contracting the virus. I’ve seen videos of folks making tons of masks for donation – and I well know those are not the masks that are going to help the frontline Healthcare workers and first responders from contracting the virus. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to each and every healthcare worker, the great nurses, doctors and First Responders, all of you.

    • You can use a pipe cleaner to make the nose piece and some adhesive foam (I got mine from the hardware store – the stuff they use to seal around windows and doors etc.).

  19. I offered to sew masks for our local hospital, found out all these details for hospital mask requirements:

    the CV particle is extremely small
    a particle of flour is 100 microns in size
    a regular flu virus microbe is 5 microns
    SARS virus microbe is 1 micron
    CV microbe is .2 microns (1/4 of a micron in size)

    NONE of the following fabrics are suitable to prevent the spread. An extremely dense filter is needed to block the CV microbes. A “nose pinch wire” is required, otherwise the contaminated air will be drawn in there and go directly into the lungs.

    flannel fabric has openings in the weave 100 microns in size
    woven cotton (bandanna fabric) has openings in the weave 50 microns in size
    polyester fabric has openings in the weave 50 microns in size
    a coffee filter has openings 50 microns in size
    a paper towel has openings 10 microns in size
    a high dust vacuum bag has openings 2 microns in size
    a hepa filter has openings 2 microns in size
    N95 respirator has openings 0.3 microns in size
    CV microbe is .2 microns (1/4 of a micron in size) the CV microbes are so tiny they are going right through the masks!

    Also: the CV microbes are so tiny they can float in the air for several hours! They can remain alive and active up to 3 days on plastic or metal surfaces. This is why this virus is so contagious. Example: You can go into the bread aisle and pick up a bag that was coughed on or handled 2 days prior and bring the germs home. Touch the bag, make a sandwich, ingest the germs.

    I purchased 1 micron diesel filter fabric. .. this was the best I could find

  20. Also consider donating masks to your local disability services, aged care services, retirement homes/ centres & chemo clinics etc., so that the most vulnerable members of your community can have SOME protection if they MUST leave home. Ear Savers are also GREAT to add with them as well, as many may have sensitive skin, ears etc, these can be made easily & cheaply as well…
    Most o us who are vulnerable have to stay i some kind of lockdown/ isolation until there is an effective vaccine and we (& our bubbles etc.) have been vaccinated, this could be another 6-18+ months. When we do need to go out we need to take EVERY precaution possible (masks, gloves, less busy times & locations, hand sanitiser, cleaning EVERYTHING that comes into our homes (from mail to groceries etc.) & limiting or excluding close contact &/or people in our homes etc.)
    A mask can help protect a vulnerable person & give them a little piece of mind (it is just an added layer of protection & a GOOD reminder NOT to touch our faces etc…

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