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How to Stay Safe At Home Part-3: How to Make Face Masks out of Cotton, Non Woven, Old Clothes / Do It Yourself Face Masks

Lidia Bertesteanu |

If there was ever a time for D.I.Y. fabric arts and crafts aficionados, that time has come now. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone needs Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.) – face masks, to be exact – and everything they can get to stay safe and protect others around them.

As we discussed when we presented you with our guide on how to shop safely for groceries during the COVID-10 pandemic, you should not leave your house without protection for your nose and mouth. However, as we all know, there is a significant shortage of protective masks in pharmacies, hospitals, and other specialized stores.

So what can you do? You could put your D.I.Y. skills at work! Even if you almost forgot how to use your sewing machine, don't worry about it! We are here to show you how to make a face mask for you and your family members out of old t-shirts, bed sheets and grocery bags!

According to a document issued by the U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health,

Handmade masks are not P.P.E.  However, the C.D.C. has stated that they may be used when traditional masks are not available.  Handmade masks cannot prevent you from contracting COVID-19, but they can mitigate droplet spread. Many hospitals are accepting donations of handmade masks for patients and providers who are not/are not treating COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 patients, which frees up actual P.P.E. for those most at risk of spreading or contracting the virus. 

In the same document, you will find a list of hospitals in each U.S. state that are presently accepting homemade masks to equip the front-line medical staff. Besides, you will also find detailed instructions describing how to deliver your homemade masks to the facilities of your choosing.

You can make the masks for you, your family members, and neighbors who need your help. Before you decide how many masks you can make and how to put them to their best use, it is crucial that you first learn how to make them. Before we begin, however, let's discuss some pressing questions.

How Effective are Homemade Face Masks?

As you have seen from the paragraph above, the C.D.C acknowledges and draws attention upon the fact that face masks made of any type of fabric are not as effective against the virus as the N95 ones. However, homemade fabric masks are still useful. In times of crisis, even scarves or bandanas can help protect you or your loved ones when you go outside for groceries or walking the dog.

Moreover, if you want to be the change and the good you want to see in the world, keep in mind that you can donate your homemade masks also to:

  • homeless shelters and N.G.O.s dealing now with homeless outreach and protection,
  • first responders,
  • veterinarians,
  • the personnel in animal shelters,
  • assisted living facilities and nursing homes,
  • workers and residents in the foster care system,
  • your local shops, entrepreneurs, vendors, and small businesses in your area that need your support now more than ever;
  • and anyone who needs all the protection they can receive right now.

Our recommendation is to talk to those around you and ask if they need your help with homemade safe masks. Homemade face masks made of non-woven fabrics and bed sheets, cotton fabric are also washable. People can disinfect them and wear them again before they go out shopping, walking their pet, or receiving packages from couriers and deliverers when you shop online.

Therefore, before we start making face masks at home, let's talk about the fabrics we need.

What Fabrics are the Best for Homemade Face Masks?

Unfortunately, there is no official guideline to tell us what the best fabrics for making face masks at home are. Logic, however, dictates that non-woven fabrics are useful as the material is breathable, easy to work with, and easy to clean. Tightly-woven fabrics like cotton and linen are also a good option.

Other materials you can test and try for your homemade face masks include:

  • Bedsheets and linen;
  • Heavy-duty cotton t-shirts, shirts, and tote bags,
  • and denim.

Here are some textiles you should avoid when considering making fabric face masks at home:

  • Knitted fabrics. When you stretch them over your mouth and nose, they create holes that the virus can get through, making them less effective against spreading the infection;
  • Wool or jute fabrics, as they are less compact and can cause chafing and itching against the skin.

One of the best methods to complete such goals is to get a roll of washable cotton fabric, t-shirts or non-woven tote bags and turn them into homemade face masks. These fabrics are durable and very strong. Moreover, as we said, they allow you to breathe freely, are easy to sanitize, and do not overheat even if you wear them in spring or summer.

The best part is that non-woven tote bags are more than affordable and large enough to allow the creation of multiple masks from only one item, so you will not break the bank for this particular cause.


Fabric Preparation: A Few Things You Need to Know

No matter if you bought canvas, linen fabric or non-woven tote bags for your face masks D.I.Y. project, the most important thing to do is wash them and sanitize them properly. No matter if you wear them or you donate them to an N.G.O. or other organization of your choice, your family members, or your elderly neighbors, whoever wears one must be safe and feel comfortable.

There are two reasons why you should wash your shopping tote bags for homemade masks projects with hot water and care:

  • Hot water and the right amount of detergent kills germs and disinfects the fabric;
  • A thorough wash pre-shrinks the cloth. It is essential to focus on this aspect, as you don't want the material to change shape and deform after you or somebody else washes it after the first use.

Watch this tutorial here to learn how to wash a tote shopping bag for safe daily use!


Before you begin your quest to make D.I.Y. face masks, here are some points to consider.

According to the C.D.C., quoted by the media,

Covering your face when you leave the house is a "voluntary public health measure" and must not replace proven precautions like self-quarantine at home, social distancing, and thoroughly washing your hands.

Also, wearing a homemade fabric face mask is crucial when people cannot follow the social distancing rules for one reason or another. Also, it is best to wear fabric D.I.Y. face masks if you live in a contaminated area, no matter how many people you encounter in the pharmacy or grocery store.

Thirdly, since we discuss a virus able to spread in the air and through droplets, filtering is something to pay attention to when making such masks. Upon testing, researchers found that adding a layer to your mask consisting of a HEPA vacuum cleaner bag or a HEPA air filter increases your chances of staying safe from the virus.

What Organizations are Accepting Homemade Masks Donations?

As we said above, consult the list we offered and discuss with your local hospitals and health clinics about the acceptance of homemade mask deliveries. Each organization and agency has its policies regarding this issue. Unfortunately, since the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic changes daily, healthcare units can update their regulations and procedures every day. Make sure you read their online updates and discuss any details with them on the day you intend to donate your masks. The same goes for other units and facilities.

How to Make a Face Mask at Home

This simple tutorial below addresses people who have used a sewing machine before and have some skills in homemade tailoring and D.I.Y. projects involving the use of fabric. We will continue this guide with a more elaborate tutorial for people who are now just starting their adventure in mask-making.

The Simple Guide on Making a Face Mask

Materials You Need

Here is a list of materials you need to start making non-woven or cotton face masks at home:

  • A printable pattern. You can find an varied collection of mask designs online, so pick one that best serves your needs;
  • Scissors;
  • Tailor's chalk/pencil;
  • Ruler;
  • Sewing machine and thread;
  • Binding tape;
  • Fabric (non-woven, cotton, linen etc);
  • A metal piece for nose comfort – a paperclip is one of your best choices;
  • Fabric pins;
  • Iron for pressing the seams and pleats.


  1. Print the online face mask pattern or template in all its details;
  2. Use the scissors to cut out the patterns;
  3. Cut two pieces of fabric using the model;
  4. Using the pattern, cut out two sections of the interfacing material (non-woven fabric);
  5. Cut a piece of cloth and place it with the front sides together;
  6. On top of the fabric, put both layers of the interfacing material together (the ones you cut at step 4). Make sure you put the non-woven layers on the backside of the fabric;
  7. Use the sewing machine to create a top 9" seam with ¼" seam allowance. Keep in mind that the best stitch length for this project is 2.5-3 inches.
  8. Flip the mask open, keeping the front side of the fabric facing up;
  9. Use your iron to press the seam you created flat to one side;
  10. Insert the metal piece (paperclip) along the seam you just created between the two pieces of fabric.
  11. At the top of the pattern, secure the paperclip in place by stitching a ½" rectangle;
  12. Flip together the mask by taking the backside and the right side to sew the bottom;
  13. Use the sewing machine to create a 9" bottom seam;
  14. Flip the back of the pattern to the right side;
  15. Press or iron the bottom seam you just made;
  16. With the help of the printed model, the tailor's chalk/pencil, and the fabric pins, mark the mask's pleats. You need 3 folds pleated in the same direction. Keep them all in place with the pins;
  17. Take the scissors and cut the binding tape for each side. The recommended size is 36 inches;
  18. Locate and mark the binding's center point. Pin it onto the mask, making sure that the face cover is tightly sandwiched in place between the binding;
  19. Use the sewing machine again to sew the binding together;
  20. Repeat the same steps you made so far (1 to 19) to create the other side of the mask;
  21. Use the iron to press the pleats in place.

The tutorial above was a simpler version of the mask-making process in case you have some skills and experience with D.I.Y. fabric projects and home tailoring. Let's see next how to make a face mask similar to a surgical one from non-woven fabric that you can use or donate.

The (More) Complicated Guide on Making a 7.75″ Wide and 3.75″ Tall Face Mask

Materials You Need

Start with the materials listed above:

  • A printable pattern.
  • Fabric scissors;
  • Tailor's chalk/pencil;
  • Ruler;
  • Sewing machine and thread;
  • A metal piece;
  • Fabric pins;
  • Iron for pressing the seams and pleats.

Use non-woven material from a non-woven tote bag or a cotton material from any source you can find.

  • Add flat elastic to make the ear loops typical to surgical masks. 1/8" flat elastic will do the trick. Alternatively, you can knot the cover behind your head with fabric ties made of non-woven fabric or cotton strips (like masquerade ball masks).
  • Alternatively, use fabric store-bought ribbons (flat and of comfortable material that does not injure the skin when you knot the mask tightly behind your head).

Measurements for Making a Mask for an Adult

  1. Use the scissors to cut out – according to the pattern – a 16" L by 8.5" W rectangle from the non-woven material.
  2. Cut two 7" long pieces of elastic to make the two loops.
  3. If you use ribbons or non-woven fabric strips instead of elastic ear loops for the masks, cut four pieces of strip/ribbon of 18" in length. If necessary, stitch the two edges of the strips (along their length) to make a seam.

Measurements for Making a Mask for a Child

  1. Use the scissors to cut out from the non-woven material (according to the pattern) a rectangle measuring a 14" in length and 6.5" in width.
  2. Cut two 6" long pieces of elastic to make the two ear loops.
  3. If you are making a face mask with strips/ribbons instead of elastic loops, use ribbons/strips that are comfortable for the child.


  1. Start with sewing the top side – the pocket.
  2. Fold the 16" L by 8.5" W rectangle you already cut in half. Remember to handle the material so the right sides face each other;
  3. Use the sewing machine to sew along the 8.5" margin, leaving a generous 5/8 inches seam allowance. At this point, make sure you also leave a 3-inches opening at the center of the seam. It is essential for using a filter pocket and turn the mask right side out after you finish it. Remember to leave this 3" opening even if you do not intend to use a filter pocket, as it allows you to turn the final product right side out. You can stitch the opening after you finish, though.
  4. Turn the fabric, so the pocketed seam lies entirely in the center of one side;
  5. Use the iron to press the seam open;
  6. Fold the excess seam underneath to encase the raw edge of the fabric;
  7. Use the machine to stitch along each side of the seam and finish the edging. In this way, you prevent the material from fraying whenever you insert or remove the filtering layer.
  8. Next, you handle the elastic or ribbon/strip ties. The creation of the ear loop starts with pinning two elastic strings on the mask, one on each side. Make sure you pin one end of the elastic to the top corner and the other end to the bottom corner of the fabric. It helps you creating the ear loop once you turn the mask right side out and pleat it. The best way to handle this step is by placing the elastic strips' ends at about ¼” from the top and the bottom fabric corners.
  9. Take a few moments to check the elastic placement. The ear loops have to be between the two fabric layers once you turn the mask right side out, so make sure the elastic loops are on the outside of the final product.
  10. Repeat on the other side, so you obtain two equal and symmetric elastic ear loops. If you use fabric strips or ribbons instead of elastic ear loops, make sure you don't stitch the bands in the side seams. Otherwise, pay attention to sew one ribbon in each corner of the mask. On the inside, of course.
  11. Use the machine to sew the elastic/fabric strips and secure them in place;
  12. On your sewing machine, sew each side of the mask, preserving a 3/8 inches seam allowance. You can further backstitch elastic or fabric ties.
  13. Trim the corners for easier turning of the mask. Make sure you do not clip the fresh stitches you just made.
  14. Now, turn the mask the right side out and use your iron to press.
  15. Use your ruler to measure the mask space where you will make the pleats.
  16. With the tailor's chalk or pencil, mark three evenly spaced lines (half an inch for each fold).
  17. Use the pins to hold the folds in place and make sure they all face the same direction.
  18. Carefully sew the three pleats along their sides.
  19. For extra measure, iron the pleats to keep them in place and the same direction.
  20. Remove all the pins and loose threads.

Bottom Line

Currently, we are witnessing a homemade face masks movement that is becoming stronger and stronger with every day of the pandemic passing and reaching higher crisis levels. Many people across the globe are making face masks at home to wear, protect others, and even deliver them to the facilities that need them the most. Others are preparing them for personal use and for safeguarding their loved ones whenever they step foot outside.

We hope our guide helped you start making homemade fabric masks for you and your loved ones!

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