(Page may be updated with new information)
Masks provide a barrier in three ways. Firstly they provide a simple physical barrier. Secondly, they provide a disruption to the free flow of particles from one side of the mask to the other due to the fibre structure. Thirdly the fabric can provide an electrostatic capture of particles.
Cloth face masks are made out of fabric for community use. These masks are washable and reusable and come in various designs and thicknesses. Cloth face masks provide a lower amount of protection to the wearer, however, they provide an effective barrier between the wearer and others and therefore reduce the spread to uninfected people (between 20 and 90% protection depending on design and fabric used).
Like surgical masks, cloth masks can be fluid resistant (see fabric recommendations below) and provide the wearer with protection against large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily or other hazardous fluids.
Cloth masks protect other people from the wearer’s respiratory emissions which could contain bacteria or viruses.
We know that people can have Covid-19 but are able to spread the virus without showing any symptoms. As many as 40-60% of infected people will not show any symptoms. Some never show symptoms (asymptomatic) and some are in the early stages of the disease and have not yet developed the symptoms (pre-symptomatic).
If everyone wears cloth face masks, there is substantial evidence that this greatly reduces the risks of community transmission of the Coved-19 virus in public places.
There are many different patterns for masks available online but it can be difficult to work out what you need.
So, we have done the work for you by bringing together on this Masks for Aussies page information about:
- Volunteering to make masks
- Recommendations for fabrics
- Other considerations when making masks
- Cloth mask patterns
Volunteering to make masks
There is currently a very high demand for masks so all helpers are needed. You might be interested to know that Masks for Mates does not sell masks i.e. we donate masks to those in need.
If you would like to help us to make masks you can sign up on our Volunteer Page .
There is a also Facebook Support Group (Masks for Mates) to provide information and support for our Volunteers.
Recommendations for fabrics
Cotton with a thread count of 120-700 has been shown to be effective as a barrier. Cotton is absorbent and best suited to an inner layer where it traps the moisture containing virus that is breathed, coughed or sneezed out by an infected person. The outer layer is ideally water repellent and a layer of poly/cotton can be used but two layers of good quality cotton is acceptable.
Types of fabrics:
The suitability of several common fabrics for cloth mask making has been tested scientifically by Konda et al (2020). The fabrics tested included cotton, silk, chiffon, flannel, various synthetics, and combinations.
Here is the technical explanation of what they found:
“Although the filtration efficiencies for various fabrics when a single layer was used ranged from 5 to 80% and 5 to 95% for particle sizes of <300 nm and >300 nm, respectively, the efficiencies improved when multiple layers were used and when using a specific combination of different fabrics. Filtration efficiencies of the hybrids (such as cotton-silk, cotton-chiffon, cotton-flannel) was >80% (for particles <300 nm) and >90% (for particles >300 nm).
We speculate that the enhanced performance of the hybrids is likely due to the combined effect of mechanical and electrostatic-based filtration. Cotton, the most widely used material for cloth masks performs better at higher weave densities (i.e., thread count) and can make a significant difference in filtration efficiencies.”
Here is the simple information you need to make your masks:
- ►Cotton with a thread count of 120-700 has been shown to be effective as a barrier and the dense weave could be an effective disruptor of the flow through the mask.
- ►A blend of cotton and polyester may provide a good compromise especially for the outer layer where greater fluid repulsion is ideal.
- ►Flannel has good filtering properties but gets very hot when the mask is worn for a while or in hot weather.
- ►Polyester fabrics have good electrostatic properties(ref) but they are harder to breathe through.
- ►Fabrics like chiffon, and silk are not recommended because they cannot be cleaned at high temperatures without disrupting their fibres and causing shrinkage and distortion.
- ►Using interfacing or other synthetic filtration materials as a permanent inner layer (sewn in) is not ideal because some of these products break down or distort during washing and ironing at high temperatures.
- ►It is better to make the mask with a pocket into which a filter can be inserted and then removed and discarded before washing.
A few notes on washing:
- ►Please wash the fabric first ( i.e. before making the mask) at 60C or more to allow for shrinkage and to remove any sizing.
- ►Please Note: Straight polyester cannot be washed at high temperatures without distortion and disruption of fibres.
Number of layers:
- ►Current recommendations for cloth masks from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a two layer cloth mask of high thread count cotton.
- ►The World Health Organisation recommends a multi-layered mask with a filtration layer or pocket for a removable filter.
Currently, our recommendation is to have a two layer mask with a pocket to allow a filter to be inserted. In making these recommendations, Masks for Mates have considered factors including the mask making process, the wearability and the care of the mask. See below for information about filters.See below for information about filters.
Other considerations when making masks
Cloth masks can be made in a range of ways and we do provide patterns below. But before you jump to the patterns, think about your needs. For example, will you be taking your mask off frequently or wearing it for a long time? Do you need it to fit tightly over your nose to prevent your glasses fogging up…..
Here are some ideas and tips for you to help make your decision about the type of mask you need.
Metal Nose Bridge
A metal piece is optional depending on the mask design. If it is similar to a surgical mask this may be needed to make a good fit. For other masks like the N95 cover, or HK mask which are better fitting around the face this may not be necessary.
Loops or Ties?
Masks can have elastic loops to go behind the ears. These can be elastic hair bands or loops made from 3-5mm elastic.
Pro: They can be removed and put on easily.
- They irritate the ears if worn for a long time. If you change them often they might be a good option.
- Elastic may stretch and degrade over time so there is a pattern listed below for making masks with channels on the side so you can slip the elastic through and replace it when needed.
Elastic can also be used in a similar way to ties, i.e. over the back of the head, to get a better fit and to cause less irritation to ears.
Tip: If you can crochet or knit you can make an ear saver to protect your ears. Either crochet or knit a small rectangle 4-5 cm by 2 cm and sew a button at each end. this will go at the back of your head and the elastic from the mask hooks over the buttons. This is useful if you are wearing your mask on long train journeys or in the office.
Fabric ties can be made (not on the bias) and they are more comfortable if the mask is worn for a longer time. The fit can also be adjusted better to maintain a closer fit against the face.
Tip: Ties must stay firmly tied, so shiny and slippery fabrics will not be workable.
As mentioned above, the World Health Organisation recommends a multi-layered mask with a filtration layer or pocket for a removable filter. Ideally filters can be inserted then removed and discarded when the mask is washed. Filters that are built into the mask need to be made of material that can withstand high temperature washing.
Many non-woven stabilisers (in the embroidery world) and non-woven interfacings (in the garment construction world) do shred etc when washed. The only non-woven stabiliser that has been recommended by one of our sewists (thank you Vicki Batty) that doesn’t shred is a mesh stabiliser made with nylon fibres by RNK under the name of Floriani No Show Mesh. It comes in both non-fusible and fusible formats.
DO NOT use fusible interfacing because it contains chemicals that can irritate the wearer.
HEPA filters have been recommended by some people as a source of filter to insert in masks but they sometimes contain fibreglass so we do not recommend them. 3M states that their HEPA filters are not to be used for masks.
Testing of filters
Dr K Kwong in Hong Kong has tested various materials for use as filters and this information can be found at https://diymask.site
Konda A, Prakash A, Moss GA, Schmoldt M, Grant GD, Guha S. Aerosol filtration efficiency of common fabrics used in respiratory cloth masks. ACS Nano. 2020;14:6339–47.
Cloth mask patterns
Refer to our Cloth Mask Patterns page.