You probably know by now that face masks are recommended by the CDC when you venture out into your community. You also know that medical-grade masks should be reserved for healthcare workers during this time, and that cloth mask alternatives are available both for sale and as a DIY option with materials you may already own.
But for those of us who don’t want to buy online or in stores and don’t have fabric scraps lying around for spur-of-the-moment sewing projects, there are plenty of creative options out there to explore. You may never have expected to make face masks using underwear, but if that’s the only face-covering available to you, you can join the many others who are making and using them.
Are underwear face masks effective for virus protection?
The CDC recommends any type of cloth covering for virus protection, but a combination of different materials works best. These coverings should be made of at least two layers and should properly cover the nose and mouth of the wearer. If you are making face masks with underwear, they should follow these CDC guidelines to be effective. The level of effectiveness will be based on several factors:
The ability to filter particles depends on the type of material used to make the mask. Cotton can successfully filter particles through mechanical filtration as it helps block large particles from going through the tiny holes of the fabric. However, a hybrid of cotton and other materials such as spandex or polyester may help provide greater filtration.
These other materials filter particles through electrostatic filtration that binds viral particles to the material, preventing their spread to or from the wearer. The combined mechanical and electrostatic filtration of two different materials can help make the mask more effective.
The closeness of the threads
The closer the threads of the material, the better filtration it offers. Imagine you’re straining orange juice with pulp. A sieve with large holes will allow much, if not all, of the pulp through. A sieve made from a tight mesh, however, will catch the pulp and prevent it from passing through with the juice. Wearing a face mask to prevent viral particles from spreading works the same way.
The mask’s number of layers
The mask should be made of at least two layers to be effective, and you can always add extra layers to make it even safer (just make sure you can breathe properly through it). You can use coffee filters or paper towels as additional layers.
The facial fit
The mask should fit the face snugly, covering the nose and mouth of the wearer. Even though homemade masks do not form a proper seal around the nose and mouth like respirators do, they should be tight enough to prevent contaminants from leaking through the sides of the mask.
The use of face masks in combination with other protective strategies
As you can see, face masks offer some level of protection against the coronavirus, but you still need to practice other protective measures such as frequent hand washing. This helps eliminate potential viral particles you may have contracted after touching contaminated surfaces.
Another key strategy is social or physical distancing. This is probably the most efficient way of making sure that you don’t get infected or infect others. But since this is not always possible, wearing a face mask is a great way to supplement these preventative measures.
Underwear fabric is being used everywhere to make face masks
Rooting through your underwear drawer for mask material might feel weird to you, but the same type of fabric is being used by major brands to create protective face coverings across the world.
For example, customers of the popular Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo have urged them to produce their own masks. Uniqlo plans to use underwear fabric from its Airism line to make these highly requested face masks. They specifically planned to use underwear fabric because of its smooth, silky feel. The fabric also helps keep the wearer cool by releasing moisture and heat, which is especially needed during summer months.
How to make your own face mask using underwear
If you want to give it a shot with a pair of your own (or a pair straight from the store, if it feels too strange to use clean underwear that has been used in the past) it’s an easy process to pick up.
Men’s boxer briefs work the best, since they have a built-in flap where you can put in coffee filters as an extra protective layer. The front layer, back later, and the flap layer of the underwear make up three layers for the mask. The additional coffee filter can serve as a fourth layer. The elastic waist of the underwear is used as the straps for the mask, which go around the head and neck.
Follow these three simple steps:
- Cut the elastic band of the underwear.
- Cut a few inches from the sides of the underwear until you are left with a rectangular piece of cloth.
- Sew or hot glue the straps to each side of the rectangular cloth.
Now that you have a makeshift mask, you might want to use it to venture out into the real world safely until you buy a “real” cloth mask, or until the one you ordered online arrives.