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30 October 2020

How to make your own face covering

Get instructions for sewing your own face mask, or making one that doesn't require sewing - and find out which fabrics you need
Homemade face masks with sewing tape
Anna Studman

Making your own mask can result in a good face covering if you use the right materials in multiple layers. 

You can either make one using a simple sewing pattern or opt for a version that doesn't require any sewing.

Sewing your own face mask

There are two main styles of cloth mask. Pleated rectangular versions that mimic a basic surgical mask and a more curved, non-pleated design. The latter can be a bit more tricky to make, but there are patterns available online if you're keen to try your hand at it.

The UK government has published instructions on how to sew your own face mask. We used this template to make some and tested them alongside shop-bought versions in our face mask lab tests.

The good news is that they did well on filtration and breathability, showing that normal, tightly woven cotton is a good fabric option for a homemade mask.

The problem with this pattern was that it was a bit uncomfortable and didn't fit as snugly around our testers' faces as it should have.

Below is another, similar option to try, with pleats that should make it fit better around the face (although we haven't lab-tested this one):

  • Cut two pieces of cotton, washed and dried (for adults: 8 inch x 6.5 inch and for children: 7 inch x 5.5 inch)
  • For the loops, cut two 6in pieces of elastic or T-shirt fabric
  • Start assembling the mask by laying the two rectangles, right sides facing, on top of each other
  • Pin the straps in place between the two layers on the inside (when turned inside out they will be on the outside)
  • Machine or hand sew round the outside, about 0.25 inches away from the edge, sewing in the straps, but leaving a 2-inch unsewn gap along one of the longer edges
  • Cut off the corners and pull the mask inside out through the unsewn hole and sew up the hole.
  • Then iron in two pleats of about 0.25 inches on the shorter sides for the children’s masks and three pleats for the adults, so that on wearing the sides are pulled into the sides of the face
  • You can leave a gap between the inner and outer layer to insert a disposable filter layer - such as a coffee filter.

Adding extras such as a nose wire, strap adjustors and a filter pocket should also help with the fit and effectiveness.

Find out which we think are the Best sewing machine brands for 2020.

Making a no-sew face mask

You can fold a piece of cloth such as a bandana or tea towel into a rectangle, placing rubber bands or elastic hair ties around the middle and folding the material in then hooking the elastics around your ears. This is the method the Welsh Government recommends.

Make sure the material is folded over itself to form multiple layers, that the elastic ties fit snugly on your early and hold the material closely to your face.

What fabric should I use?

Our tests show that using a tightly woven cotton for a homemade mask is a good option, as it's able to filter particles fairly well. 

Two layers of tightly woven cotton were able to filter 73% of particles before washing and 81% after five hot washes - an impressive result.

Ideally, you would add another layer and use a combination of different fabrics, such as polyester or silk.

You can use a piece of kitchen towel or a coffee filter as a cheap and simple disposable extra filter layer in between two fabric layers. The French consumer organisation UFC-Que Choisir found in their tests that a piece of Kleenex tissue was even a good homemade option for a disposable filter layer.

For the ear loops, you can use pieces of elastic band or hair ties, or for a potentially more comfortable option - ribbons to tie up behind the ears. 

Video: how to sew a face mask

Watch our video for step-by-step instructions on sewing a face mask at home and tips on how to make sure it fits properly.

Not feeling up to it? Check our full face mask reviews for the best options you can buy instead. We've found some good options for just £2.

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