How to make a fabric face mask: top tutorials to try

Here's how to make your own face mask, including which fabrics to use, and tutorials for every ability level

how to sew a face mask
(Image credit: Erica Arndt)

With medical-grade face masks in seriously short supply, many of us are having to look elsewhere. We've hunted down where to buy face masks right now, but let's say you need something immediately, and need to know how to make your own face mask. In this article, we've found some handy tutorials to help. 

That includes which fabrics work best as filters, according to the research that's been done so far. About to tie a bandana round your face? Or fashion something using a vacuum cleaner bag? Read this first. 

How to make a face mask: the best tutorials to try

If you want to keep things basic, the CDC has two super-simple tutorials to try. All you need for the sewn version is a needle and thread, two rectangles of cotton fabric, and elastic (or string, at a push). 

Need to get hold of fabric? Here are some places to try:

If you don't have a needle and thread, the CDC has a tutorial for you too. This one uses just an old T-shirt and some scissors. 

If you're willing to try something slightly more complicated, have a go at this video tutorial. It's still pretty simple, but includes pleats. This homemade face mask uses cotton quilting fabric and flannel. 

Homemade fabric face mask guidelines

There are some rules of thumb to pay attention to when creating your own homemade face mask. The mask should fit snugly against your face and nose (leaky masks are less efficient); be able to be washed without changing shape or becoming damaged (you'll need to be able to launder it to keep it germ-free); and allow you to breathe comfortably (explanatory). 

The CDC says homemade masks should use multiple layers of fabric, and recent research suggests that using layers of different materials can also help improve filtration (for example, cotton/silk, cotton/chiffon, cotton/flannel). 

What materials make the best filters?

One fashion designer has embarked on an experiment to find out which household materials are the most effective at filtering particles, for those people having to get creative and put together our own homemade face coverings.

Designer Chloe Schempf's original experiment was picked up by particle testing equipment company TSI, and the company worked with Schempf to provide the means to test the masks to the same standard as the official N95 masks. 

The experiment focused on a whole range of materials people were using to fashion their own protective coverings, from a standalone basic bandana, to makeshift filters such as paper towels, vacuum cleaner filters and blue shop towels, which could be slotted into a face mask filter pocket. Different combinations of various materials were also tested. The effectiveness of the material also took into account how hard the fabric was to breathe through. 

The results found that while nothing got close to the effectiveness of the N95 mask (which filters least 95% of particles that measure 0.3 microns), the most effective homemade solution was one layer of Filti face mask material and one layer of 6.5g cotton ripstop fabric. 

The second most effective combination was two layers of layers Kona 100% cotton and one layer of 1500 Filtrete Furnace Filter. A folded bandana was almost at the bottom of the pile when it came to effective filtering (although it's still much better than nothing), and similarly you might want to stick to using your Braun coffee filter for coffee, as that wasn't too good either.

The experiment also underlined the importance of fit when it comes to how effective a face mask is. See the full findings here.

Ruth Hamilton

Ruth is a lifestyle journalist specialising in sleep and wellbeing. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to certified experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there. She's currently Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide and TechRadar, and prior to that ran the Outdoors and Wellness channels on T3 (now covered by Matt Kollat and Beth Girdler-Maslen respectively).