Making Masks at Home: How to Help Stop Spreading COVID-19

masks the coronavirus


A firefighter wearing a mask in the decontamination facility of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services in Washington, D.C., 15. April 2020.

Recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use tissue-based facial coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in numerous articles and videos. As scientists involved in research and development of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we are concerned about the lack of information on two important characteristics of mask design: Fitness and tissue selection.

Particle size reality

Virus particles are small, from 0.1 to 0.3 micrometers. A 40-micron particle is visible to the naked eye – anything smaller requires special equipment.'s-Spread.0&q=45&auto=format&w=237&fit=clip.png SARS-CoV-2 virus compared to other known particles (not for scaling).
Susan Sokolowski, ZK BY

Protective masks such as N95 are designed to prevent virus particles from entering and leaving the mask. Due to the current shortage, N95 masks should only be reserved for KOVID-19 medical staff.

Better than both

Homemade masks cannot block or filter the SARS-CoV-2 virus, because it can easily pass through ordinary equipment available to people at home. Still, a homemade mask is always better than no mask at all. If done properly, a homemade mask can reduce the transmission of the virus from one carrier to another and prevent the formation of large drops and splashes when coughing or sneezing. It can also reduce the transmission of the virus from other people to the owner.

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The masks should cover the nose and mouth completely. When measuring the design of the mask, make sure that it extends from the tip of the nose – as close to the eyes as possible without obstructing vision – to the chin. The masks must cover the face from one side to the other before the mouth is opened.

When designing prototypes, check the distance between all edges of the mask. When you see them, close them by pressing the fabric and glue or staple the edges together to make a fold or dart. A thin wire or clip at the top of the mask can stabilize and shape it along the nose and cheekbones for a tighter fit.

Masks should be securely attached and fit comfortably with elastic bands or earrings. If the mask is too tight or too loose, the owner can adjust it permanently, forgetting the instruction: Don’t touch the face!

The straps and hinges should also be used as a mechanism for removing the facepiece, as the front of the facepiece may be dirty.'s-Spread.0&q=45&auto= format&w=754&fit=clip.png Mask correctly selected.
Arlice Dayton, CC BY

Fabric selection

Not all people have the same access to different substances in their homes. The masks must contain substances that :

  1. Reduced virus transmission from nose to mouth and back.
  2. Wrap yourself around your face and feel comfortable against your skin.
  3. Easy to wash and disinfect.

The substance consists of four variables that have to be taken into account when manufacturing a mask: Fibre, yarn, structure and finish. Change the variable – and change the power of the mask.'s-Spread.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip.png Variables that are part of the substance
Susan L. Sokolowski and Karen L. LaBat, CC BY.

Fibers are the smallest part of the fabric. They are not recognizable by sight or touch. Look for a sticker with fibres on products or fabrics that you can use for your mask. On the other hand, the fire test can be used as a crude method to determine whether the fabric is a natural fibre, a synthetic fibre or a mixture of natural and artificial fibres. If you choose this method, be careful.

In the production of masks, three important fibre properties have to be taken into account. First, the size in microns, the diameter of the fibers. The particle size of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is between 0.1 and 0.3 microns, so the small fibres provide more compact tissue structures to reduce transmission. The second is the feel of the fibres on the skin – it shows how comfortable a mask next to your face can be. The third is the recovery of the moisture content, which is the fiber’s ability to absorb moisture. A higher number means a higher absorption capacity; a lower recovery gives an idea of the fibre’s ability to repel moisture.'s-Spread.0&q=45&auto= format&w=754&fit=clip.png General Fiber Properties and Mask Considerations.
Susan L. Sokolowski and Karen L. LaBat, CC BY.

The fibres twist together to form threads. Threads vary in size, affecting fabric thickness and breathability. The number of yarns is the number of threads in a 1-inch square of the fabric. A substance with a large number of threads indicates a dense substance that has the potential to block droplets. Yarns with different properties can be mixed to combine the properties.

The yarn is then structured into a physical fabric.'s-Spread.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip.png Substances.
Susan L. Sokolovsky and Karen L. LaBat, CC BY's-Spread.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip.png Structures and mask considerations.
Susan L. Sokolowski and Karen L. LaBat, CC BY.

Finishing materials such as water repellents and antimicrobial agents are not visible, but can be useful. Detect the release of water or moisture using a drop pipette to place a drop of water on the fabric and watch it move through the fabric. Aesthetic refinements such as graphics and batiks are not very useful.

Fold everything together

Many tissue variables are to be expected in a homemade mask. Let’s think about creating a three-tier system.'s-Spread.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip.png Reflections on a three-layer mask system.
Susan L. Sokolowski and Karen L. LaBat, CC BY.

This three-layer system contains a space between the inner and outer layers for a removable intermediate layer. A removable filter is placed in this section. If a layer of fabric is too thin, add more layers for protection.

Homemade masks do not filter out SARS-CoV-2, but masks can prevent the transfer of drops and splashes between people. When wearing the mask, remember to maintain social distance, wash your hands regularly and wipe surfaces and pockets.

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