Cover (Image: Vera Davidova/Unsplash)

If you are making your own masks to protect yourself during the Covid-19 outbreak, there are a few things to keep in mind

While there have been some confusing and even contradictory messages from organizations and even governments on whether we should all be wearing a mask during the Covid-19 pandemic, some health experts have come out in favour of masks, saying that even homemade cloth face masks offer some degree of protection against the Covid-19 virus. If you are making your own, there are a few things to keep in mind.

"While masks may not prevent transmission completely, they should help reduce it," says Sangwei Lu, an adjunct professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology in the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. Loretta Fernandez, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern, agrees, saying that even if homemade masks don't filter out everything, they can lower the chances of viral droplets making it into the airways.

(Related: Coronavirus Tips: Reusable Face Masks for Kids and Adults that You Can Buy Online in Singapore)

Covid-19 expert at the Mayo Clinic Dr Gregory Poland also adds, "They are not only a way of decreasing breathing in the virus, primarily through large respiratory droplets, but also a behavioural reminder that there's a pandemic and life is not the same right now—and a reminder not to put our hands in our eyes nose or mouth until we've washed our hands."

Here Lu, Fernandez and Dr Poland offer some of their advice for making your own DIY mask as effective as possible.

1 / 5

Choose the right fabric

Although people have been using whatever they have on hand to make masks, Dr Poland says, "There have been some studies looking at types of fabric. For example, high-quality, woven tee shirts tend to be better than for example, scarves. Cotton towels that are thicker with tight weaves tend to be better. So there are some materials that appear to be better than others in the few studies that have been done."

2 / 5

Get the fit right

No matter what material you have chosen for your mask, it must fit your face comfortably but snugly. In fact, Fernandez's research has shown that the most important factor determining whether a mask will protect you is not the material you use, but how well it fits on your face.

3 / 5

Include more than one layer of fabric

You can help prevent viral droplets getting through the mask by adding extra layers of fabric, particularly nylon, says Fernandez, but you can also use whatever you have on hand. "By including a filter layer—coffee filters, toilet paper, any sort of thing in there that is safe to breathe—you're just making the air have to follow a more circuitous route to get to your nose," Fernandez says. Fernandez has found that a layer of nylon pantyhose over masks can improve their effectiveness by as much as 50 per cent. 

4 / 5

Keep your mask clean

Whatever mask you have made, keeping it clean will also help make it more effective. "It's important for the general public to disinfect or clean masks regularly, otherwise contaminated masks worn close to the face may actually increase one's chance of getting infected," says Lu. Dr Poland adds, "Just washing with soap and water in your laundry machine is quite satisfactory. You don't need to go to any extreme lengths," however, remember that you should be able to wash and dry your mask without it changing shape, as you want it to still fit your face.

5 / 5

Make more than one mask

"Cloth masks can be washed and dried, so it's a good idea to have two masks and wear them alternately," advises Lu. And as Dr Poland also points out, "Once a mask gets wet, maybe from our exhalation, it really begins to decrement in effectiveness in filtering any sort of respiratory particulate matter. So that's one thing, it would need to be changed," offering another reason why it's useful to have more than one mask on hand.