With COVID-19 numbers going back up and people heading back into their communities, many who did not previously consider face masks are starting to look for options. However, many types of face masks are out of stock (or restricted to medical workers only, in the case of certain masks).
While you wait for your face mask to be made or come back in stock, you can create a simple face covering at home using something you probably already have: hair ties or regular rubber bands. Although homemade face masks using hair ties do not provide the same level of protection as medical-grade respirators, they can offer basic protection to you and those around you when combined with social distancing and good hand hygiene measures.
Which cloth is best for homemade masks?
A study by researchers at Cambridge University set out to test the efficacy of homemade masks by comparing various materials. Cotton t-shirts and masks were worn by healthy volunteers, who created the face coverings on their own. Other volunteers wore surgical masks, while some wore no face covering at all.
Based on the results, cotton pillow covers and cotton t-shirts are considered the best materials for creating DIY masks. Since most people have these on hand, you may not even need to venture out for fabric to make a face-covering!
Say no to medical respirators and surgical masks
The US government has time and again asked the public to stop buying masks that are medically rated, as the wide gap between supply and demand continues to put medical professionals at risk. You can do your part by using reusable face masks instead of disposable medical masks, leaving the most effective supplies for workers who are in contact with COVID-19 patients regularly.
To get the most protection out of a reusable cloth mask, however, you need to use it properly:
- The mask must fit snugly and comfortably on your face, without leaving any space or gaps for the outside particles to enter (or vice versa).
- The construction should include multiple layers of fabric to increase protection, but make sure you can still breathe comfortably.
- The mask must be easily laundered without degrading the fabric.
Creating a no-sew face mask using hair ties
- Two hair ties or rubber bands
- A 20” x 20” square of fabric
Now that you know what materials you need and how to wear your mask, let’s talk about how to put it together.
- Lay your square of fabric out on a flat surface.
- Fold the top down and the bottom up so that they meet in the middle.
- If your fabric is thin or you have a smaller face, repeat step two.
- Place a hair tie/rubber band around each end and position them about six inches apart.
- Fold the ends of the fabric over the hair ties/rubber bands and tuck them in.
Now you can lift the mask by the hair ties and place it over your nose and mouth, using the ties as your ear loops. See Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. Surgeon General, demonstrate this process here.
What is the best way to clean face masks?
Your mask must be washed after each and every use. It’s best to place it in the washing machine or wash with warm, soapy water immediately after arriving home. Then, wash your hands thoroughly, as well. Your mask should be completely dry before you wear it again, which is why some have chosen to purchase several reusable masks and rotate them.
Remember: a clean mask needs clean hands to go with it. Even if you are wearing a mask, you should continue to practice good handwashing:
- Wash your hands with soap at regular intervals.
- Wash for at least twenty seconds.
- Use hand sanitizer only if you do not have soap and water available.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow, never your hands.
- Don’t shake hands with others for the time being.
- Don’t touch the outside of your mask during use. You may have seen people wearing masks down around their chin; that means they touched the surface of the mask, where the germs are, to lower it and will have to touch the surface again when they’re ready to raise it up!
Who should not wear face masks?
Face masks must not be used on kids under the age of two. For them, the risk of suffocation is greatest. It is best to keep small children out of the public as much as possible, but if you cannot, it’s never too early to teach good handwashing or to practice social distancing.
Do not place a mask over the face of someone who is unconscious. You may not be able to tell if they are getting enough air.
Individuals who have pre-existing respiratory complications such as asthma may also need to avoid face masks (or wear an extra breathable version).
Are homemade face masks really effective?
In the early days of COVID-19, it was stated that face masks are not effective against the coronavirus. However, the situation evolved quickly and those recommendations changed as new information became available.
Now, the CDC does, in fact, recommend wearing face masks, whether bought or homemade. Even the most basic, makeshift cloth masks can help slow the spread of coronavirus in public places. Unfortunately, many still cling to those early recommendations against the use of face masks without taking the most up-to-date information into account. Because of this, it’s more important than ever to wear a mask and keep a respectful distance from anyone who isn’t following the latest recommendations.
Whether you plan on making your face mask using hair ties, sewing it from scratch, or ordering it online, there is a face covering solution for everyone. While it’s ideal to purchase a fitted, custom face mask (or several), making a face mask using hair ties will help to keep you and your community safe until you are able to do so.