How To Make Face Masks at Home to Help Stop the Spread of Coronavirus

Here's a pattern and detailed instructions to make, wear, sanitise and dispose of face masks.

Annabelle D’Costa

In an ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic, medical advisories are getting updated with equal swiftness. But the first line of defence continues to be diligent hand washing and extensive use of face masks. To make the case stronger for masks, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sporting a makeshift but efficient face cover made of traditional Manipuri scarf called ‘lengyan’, during his second address to the nation after the declaration of the country-wide lockdown.

In their latest advisory, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its mask recommendation: “…the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” India’s Union Health Ministry followed suit, and urged people to cover their faces with homemade, reusable masks when stepping out. The cities of Delhi, Mumbai, and the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha even made the wearing of masks mandatory.

A Case for Homemade Masks

With medical professionals working round-the-clock to control the spread of the pandemic, they are in immediate need of certified N95 respirator masks—there aren’t enough of these masks for everyone. On the other hand, disposable surgical masks, which are good for only one-time use and made from unsustainable polypropylene material, which is setting precedent for an environmental disaster. Reports of used masks being washed ashore on Hong Kong’s beaches and that of some being re-sold in Indian markets are indicators of the grave situation at hand. In this case, surgical or cloth and other reusable masks, available at all medical stores, are your best bet. Besides, you could always take up a little DIY project by making yourself a homemade mask.

According to the ‘Guidelines for Hygiene and Sanitation in Densely Populated Areas, During the COVID-19 Pandemic’ released by Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, “all individuals, including children older than three years, must wear face covers at all times—even in the toilet.” Additionally, the Union Health Ministry has also advised that “There must not be a sharing of face covers and a face cover must be used by only one individual. So, in a family of several members, each member should have a separate face cover.” Keep two sets of face covers handy so “that one can be washed while the other is used.” The face cover should also be prepared such that it covers the mouth and nose completely and can be tied over the face easily.

How To Make a DIY Face Mask

Masks are to be used not just to protect yourself, but also to protect others against the unintended transmission of the virus. The doctors of Wake Forest Baptist Health, based out of North Carolina, USA, suggest that there are some benefit to wearing a homemade mask, especially when the fit and quality of the material used to make them are taken into consideration. However, the effectiveness depends on the materials used—some can offer 79% filtration, while others as little as 1% filtration. Winning masks ere made using “two layers of high-quality, heavyweight ‘quilter’s cotton’ with a thread count of 180 or more, those with especially tight weave and thicker thread, and also double-layer masks with a simple cotton outer layer and an inner layer of flannel.”

The biggest challenge then is that of choosing the right material for homemade mask that’s, both, dense as well as breathable and can be worn for hours at stretch. 

1. The CDC endorses no-sew masks using a bandana and a coffee filter or masks using folded fabrics and rubber bands. On the other hand, the guidelines issued by the Government of India recommends using a 100% cotton fabric.
2. You could also use any other material on hand -- to know whether or not your material is good enough, a simple light test can help you decide on your face masks’ effectiveness. Hold your mask against a source of light, and in case light passes through the fibres making you almost see the threads, it’s lousy.
3. The next step is to ensure that your face covers are made out of clean cloth, “which needs to be thoroughly cleaned and washed before being made or stitched.”

Here’s a video by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare on how to make a reusable face cover at home

How to Wear Your Face Mask Right

As per the World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines,

1. You should clean your hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer or soap and water before wearing and after removing a mask.
2. Avoid touching the mask while you are using it, only touch its sides while wearing and removing it.
3.  In case you happen to touch the front of your face cover, wash your hands properly. The covering will be less effective if you remove it from your face when you're in a crowded place, which is why it's better to adjust your covering before you leave your home.
4.  It cannot be iterated enough that medical-grade masks are single-use, and cannot be reused; they need to be replaced as soon as they turn damp.

Homemade masks and face covers are made from cloth fabric and are machine-washable, which means you can reuse them. While at it, ensure that you clean your mask by washing it with soap and hot water, and drying it in the sun. When it comes to taking care of your homemade masks, T Lalita suggests soaking them in warm water and antiseptic liquid or using a bio enzyme. “If you have access to a balcony, dry it directly in the sun,” says Lalita who is working as a Project Coordinator at Stree Mukti Sanghatana, a non-government organisation that works towards women empowerment, including that of women waste pickers. 

Here's another video on how to wear a face mask correctly:

How to Remove and Dispose of Your Face Mask Correctly 

In case of surgical masks, they should be removed chin upwards, from the strings, without touching the front side. This should be then followed with folding it half inwards, such that droplets from mouth and nose are not exposed, according to Narayana Health, a chain of multi-specialty hospitals in India. Fold the mask again so that it resembles a roll, use the ear loops to wrap the mask up so that it does not unravel. When you are removing a homemade mask, always remove it from behind not touching the front of the mask, recommends the WHO.

While most hospitals follow the Bio-medical Waste Management Rules 2016 and more rigorously so in the times of COVID-19,  it is waste disposed of by quarantined households that poses a threat. T Lalita explains, “First, your housekeeping staff handling your unsegregated waste can come into direct contact. After that, the sanitation workers are at risk. Finally, waste pickers handling the unsegregated waste who will be touching your used and possibly infected biomedical waste.” Many municipal corporations segregate waste into wet, dry and sanitary or medical, with the latter being treated scientifically in most cases. “Disposable face masks should not end up in dumping grounds at any cost,” says Lalita. 

1. When you are disposing of any biomedical waste, be it gloves or masks, it is important that you wrap them securely in a newspaper or paper bag marked with a red cross, explains Lalita.
2. Wash your hands thoroughly with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water thereafter.

Lead image: Instagram
Designed by Vartika Pahuja 


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