Follow these guidelines to maximize the protection of your homemade face mask.

By Jessica Bennett
May 12, 2020

Whether it's required in your city or just advised, wearing a face mask in public is one way you can help slow the spread of COVID-19. However, simply covering your mouth with a loose scarf or bandana isn't enough to filter germs and block virus-causing respiratory droplets from spreading to others. Although some sort of face-covering is better than nothing at all, you can increase the effectiveness of your homemade face mask with a few wear and care tips.

woman putting face mask on

How to Wear a Face Mask Correctly and Safely

Follow these dos and don'ts for homemade face masks to get the safest fit and function.

Do: Use a Mask with Multiple Fabric Layers

Whether you sew your own mask, fashion a no-sew version, or purchase a ready-made one, cloth masks should include multiple fabric layers for the best protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One study published by the American Chemical Society found that adding additional layers of fabric boosts effectiveness at blocking airborne particles, and more tightly woven materials, such as high-thread-count cotton, offer even better filtration.

Don't: Wear a Mask Loosely Around Your Face

Even a mask made of the best protective materials is only effective if it fits properly. The same study found that gaps around the edges of masks can decrease its efficiency by more than 50%. For the best fit, a face mask should completely cover your nose and mouth, reach under your chin, and secure tightly behind the ears or head using ties or elastic loops.

An ill-fitting mask can also cause your glasses to fog up when you breathe. To keep your lenses clear, make sure your mask fits tightly around your nose and the skin under your eyes. Some masks include a bendable metal strip you can form around the bridge of your nose. You can achieve this effect on a homemade mask by adding a pipe cleaner across the top. Additionally, ensure your mask is made of breathable fabric so the air can pass through the material instead of up toward your glasses.

Do: Add a Filter to Your Mask

A filter provides an extra layer of protection that can help your face mask capture airborne particles. You can use a variety of household materials as a homemade face mask filter, including paper towels, coffee filters, and nylon stockings. Before adding a filter to your mask, check that you can breathe through the material to ensure air goes through the filter instead of around it. Place the filter between layers of fabric, and make sure it's removable so you can discard and replace it after each use.

Don't: Touch Your Face While Wearing a Face Mask

Touching your face can transfer germs from your hands to your mouth or nose and increase your chances of getting sick, so try not to fidget with your mask once it's on. When removing your face mask, avoid touching the fabric part (where germs might be trapped) and handle it only by the ear loops or ties. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth as you take it off, and always wash your hands immediately afterward.

Do: Wash Your Mask Often

Fabric masks should be washed frequently (ideally after each use) to rid them of germs between wears. You can sanitize your cloth mask by throwing it in the washing machine or hand-washing it with warm water and detergent. Avoid using harsh chemicals such as bleach or hydrogen peroxide, which can degrade the fabric fibers and decrease the mask's effectiveness. If your mask is disposable, you should discard it immediately after use.

Don't: Substitute a Mask for Other Protective Measures

Simply wearing a face mask doesn't mean you're completely protected from germs (or exempt from spreading them to others). The most effective means of protection against coronavirus are still maintaining social distance and frequently washing your hands. And, as always, stay home if you feel sick.


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