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Plus, no-sew alternatives using what you have on hand.

By Rory Evans and Katie Holdefehr
Updated April 05, 2020
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In our attempts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, we’ve been diligently washing our hands, properly social distancing, and continually reminding ourselves not to touch our faces (seriously, why is that so hard?). But now, the CDC is recommending adding one more protective measure: wearing cloth face coverings.

The CDC decided to update its policy on homemade face masks on Friday, April 3, after reviewing new data about the novel coronavirus. In a statement about the new guidelines, the CDC explains: "We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms ('asymptomatic') and that even those who eventually develop symptoms ('pre-symptomatic') can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms." For this reason, the agency now recommends wearing a homemade cloth face covering in public settings, particularly in places where social distancing measures may be difficult to follow, such as at the grocery store or pharmacy. To be clear: wearing a face mask does not eliminate the need for social distancing and frequent hand washing, but it should be used in combination with them.

But don’t even think about buying a store-bought face mask. Due to shortages of face masks, both surgical cloth masks and N95 respirators need to be reserved for frontline healthcare workers who are in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Luckily, there are plenty of homemade face mask alternatives, and the CDC recommends a couple different options crafted from inexpensive materials you likely already have around the house, including spare fabric, an old t-shirt, or a bandana. Visit their website for tutorials on sewn and no-sew cloth face coverings. Or, try our stylish, pleated take on the homemade face mask, below, fashioned by our executive editor, Rory Evans. Here's what to wear when you want to put one more barrier between yourself and the person standing (at least) six feet away from you on the Trader Joe’s line.

Guidelines for Homemade Face Masks

Here are some boxes you'll want your DIY face mask to check, according to the CDC's updated guidelines.

  • Make sure the mask fits snugly yet comfortably against your face.
  • Use a washable material that can handle hot water and detergent. Wash the mask after every use (see below).
  • Choose a material that's tightly woven but breathable, and use multiple layers of fabric.
  • Make sure the mask allows for breathing without restriction.
  • Avoid touching the mask while using it. And if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.
  • Remove the mask from behind, rather than touching the front of the mask. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth while removing the mask.

No-Sew Face Covering Options

Fortunately, you don't need sewing skills to fashion a cloth face mask. In fact, the CDC has tutorials for face coverings crafted from bandanas or an old T-shirt and hair ties. When selecting a material, opt for one that's tightly woven yet breathable, and use multiple layers. Like a sewn face mask, you'll need to wash the face covering after every use. Check out our video tutorial for creating a no-sew face mask in minutes.

How to Wash Face Masks

After each use, wash the mask with hot water and detergent. Then, dry completely on the hot setting of your clothes dryer.

How to Sew a DIY Face Mask

Real Simple's executive editor, Rory Evans, crafted beautiful fabric face masks for herself and her family. With a pleated design that mimics cloth surgical masks, it helps prevent gaps between the mask and your face. A piece of a removable HEPA vacuum filter can be added for an extra layer. Here's how to make your own, step by step.

Homemade Face Mask, Supplies on cutting board
Credit: Evan Savian

Gather Your Supplies

  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Pen
  • Washed cotton fabric (or an old shirt)
  • Elastic cord, cut into two 7-inch lengths, knotted at ends
  • Picture hanging wire (or pipe cleaner)
  • HEPA vacuum filter bag or coffee filter
Homemade Face Mask, measure fabric
Credit: Evan Savian

Measure, Cut, and Sew

Cut a piece of fabric into a strip that’s 9-by-15 inches. (To give mine a little flavor and variety—it doesn’t take much these days—I used two different fabrics.)

Fold the fabric in half width-wise, right (or “good”) sides facing, and mark the 3 inch and 6 inch spots along the top. Sew from the outer edges to these spots—you’ll be creating the opening slot for tucking in a wire and filter (but that comes later!). The fabric will now be a loop.

Slightly offset the seam, and press open.

With right sides still facing, slip an elastic cord inside the loop, with the knotted end just outside the edge of the fabric. Pin the ends of the elastic in place, at the top and bottom corners of the fabric. Stich over the top of the elastic to secure it in place, then sew along the edge (avoiding the elastic). When you get to the bottom corner, stitch over the bottom of the elastic to secure it in place (this will create one ear loop). Repeat with the second elastic on the other side.

Stitch fabric together, turn inside out
Credit: Evan Savian

Turn the Mask Right-Side Out

Pinch your fingers into the top slot, grab the cords, and turn the mask right-side out. Press for crisp edges.

Along the top, sew a thin ¼-inch channel 3 inches in from each side, being sure to keep the area above the slot free of stitching. (This will hold a piece of wire, for a good fit over the bridge of your nose.)

Homemade Face Mask with floral fabric
Credit: Evan Savian

The Basic Mask, Pre-Pleating

Check: Here's how your stitched-together mask should look at this point.

Mark where pleats will go
Credit: Evan Savian

Mark the Pleats

With a pen, mark every inch along the sides of the mask (creating six marks per side).

Homemade Face Mask, pin the pleats
Credit: Evan Savian

Pin the Pleats

Pleat the mask along the sides: Pin the first mark to the second, the third to the fourth, and the fifth to the six. (Repeat on other side.)

Homemade Face Mask, sewing machine pleats
Credit: Evan Savian

Sew the Pleats in Place

Using a sewing machine or stitching by hand, sew along the pleats to secure them in place.

Homemade Face Mask, adding HEPA filter and wire
Credit: Evan Savian

Adding HEPA filter and Picture-Hanging Wire (Optional)

Check: Here's how your now-pleated mask should look. Grab a filter and wire for the next step!

added wire to homemade face mask
Credit: Evan Savian

Insert Picture-Hanging Wire

Snip a 14-inch length of picture wire, fold in half, and bend over sharp ends (or use a pipe cleaner). Cut a coffee filter (or vacuum bag) into a 4-by-7-inch rectangle. Slide the wire into the skinny channel along top edge. Slide the filter into slot.

After each use, replace the filter, then wash the mask according to the instructions above.