Want to make a face mask to help protect against the coronavirus? What you need to know

There's a difference between face masks and coverings, and certain materials that are more comfortable than others.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Katie Teague
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There's a wealth of resources available to help you make a stylish, comfortable face mask at home.

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Your state may be among one of the recent ones to reopen dine-in eating and retail stores as coronavirus lockdown measures continue to ease. If that's the case, you may be required to wear a face mask or covering in order to enter. This is to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in enclosed areas where it's harder to maintain social distancing recommendations of six feet. 

You can also find and buy a face mask online, or you can make one that suits your personality and fits your face comfortably. You can also get inspiration from others who have gotten creative -- from making headbands with buttons to prevent chafing around the ears to clear coverings over the mouth so their lips can be read. Some are even using 3D printers to make face shields and mask accessories. Face coverings like these are now a common sight in grocery stores, public transportation, pharmacies and even on the streets.

We know you must have questions, so we're breaking down what you need to know about making, wearing, buying and donating masks, from hand-sewn masks to no-sew coverings and even bandannas attached to your ears with hair ties. 

Homemade face masks and coverings may not be able to block out every particle, and are not guaranteed to keep you from acquiring the coronavirus, but they can help in some circumstances (more below). The need to reserve N95 masks for doctors and nurses to use as protection has meant that ordinary citizens needed an alternative to help slow the virus' spread. Social distancing on walks and in stores, and that thorough hand-washing is still the most advocated medical advice for healthy people to avoid acquiring the coronavirus.

Watch this: How to make your own coronavirus protective gear on a 3D printer

Face mask vs. face covering: What's the difference?

The CDC stresses the use of "face coverings" in its official recommendation, not necessarily "face masks." So what's the difference? A face covering can be any cloth that encloses the nose and mouth, including a scarf or bandanna wrapped around the face.

A face mask refers to a more specific shape that usually involves material that's more fitted to the nose, mouth and skull, as through the use of ear straps. It's possible that "face covering" is used to differentiate coverings from surgical and N95 respirator masks that have been critically low across the US.

Here's what the CDC says: "Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."


Many people are layering bandannas and scarves to make face coverings at home.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How homemade face masks can help

Homemade face mask patterns were available online before the coronavirus pandemic began. Most of them are intended to block out large particles such as dust; air pollution from cars, factories or ash; and allergens such as pollen. 

Non-N95 face masks or coverings may not be able to block the smallest particles, but there are some benefits to wearing one, in addition to following other precautions:

  • May block large particles ejected from sneezing, coughing, speaking, spitting and singing.
  • Might help protect others from your sneezes and coughs if you acquired the virus but are otherwise asymptomatic and out in public.
  • Could encourage more mindful behavior, including avoiding touching one's mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Peace of mind.

25 face mask styles we love that you can buy or make

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Where can I buy face masks if I don't make my own?

Check out the slideshow above for some face mask styles worn by the CNET team, and consult our frequently updated list of where to buy a face mask in a variety of shapes, sizes and patterns. We recommend washing any face masks you buy to sterilize them before use.

Where to find face mask patterns to make yourself

When you're searching for patterns, look for one that goes above the nose and under the chin for maximum coverage. It should ideally fit snugly around your face, so you may need to pay attention to sizing so your mask doesn't wind up being too bog or small. 

These sites have patterns you can make, with how-to guides included:

Some patterns show a folded design. Others are shaped more like N95 or surgical masks. Some people are even using old bras to make face masks.

There are also patterns designed for the deaf and hard of hearing community. The designs have a clear screen so that people can see your mouth when talking. You can also make face shields from empty 2-liter soda bottles.

If you're volunteering to make face masks for a health care center or hospital that has requested them (more below), visit the hospital's website -- some point to patterns they prefer for you to use.

Materials you'll need to make a face mask at home

To start a DIY face mask, you'll want these supplies on hand: 

  • Cotton fabric 
  • Elastic
  • A sewing kit or sewing machine
  • A nonporous yet breathable material to go between the fabric (this may be detailed in a pattern).
  • Some designs call for filter material, which is added in an effort to block smaller particles.

After you're finished making the mask, it doesn't hurt to sterilize it by throwing it in the washing machine or boiling it in water. Then let it air dry in an area with good airflow or that the sun hits, like in front of a window.

No-sew options if you can't sew

If you don't know where to begin when it comes to sewing, there's a no-sew face mask option. Instead of sewing the fabric together, you can use fabric glue and an iron. The iron is used to fuse the fabric and glue together. You'll also need to use the iron to create pleats in the fabric for a thicker mask.

If you don't have any of those materials, you can use a scarf and a couple of hair ties or rubber bands to quickly make a face covering -- again, this is intended for personal use.

25 face mask styles we love that you can buy or make

See all photos

What to do if your ears get raw

A comfortable face mask is a must if you'll be wearing it for hours at a time. If the elastic straps start to rub your ears painfully, you can make a headband with buttons. In this case, the elastic straps would go around the buttons, rather than your ears, making it potentially more comfortable to wear.

You can also use an S ring hook to attach the straps -- take the straps and place them around each U of the ring. When you're ready to wear the mask, the S ring should be located on the back of your head. This can also help the mask fit better around your face since the ring would help pull the straps snug.

Where you can donate the masks you make

If you're looking to donate homemade face masks, there are multiple options, including Joann and hospitals and organizations on this list. Right now, Joann is giving away free kits to those who would like to help by making masks at home to donate. You can pick them up at a Joann location near you.

You can also search the internet for local face mask donations near you. Make sure that you find out how these groups prefer to receive your face masks, and maintain social distancing and smart practices while you drop them off. 


You can drop off face masks to Joann.


Where are you required to wear a mask?

While it's highly recommended by the CDC for people to wear face coverings in public, dozens of states are mandating that its residents wear masks when they go out in public. Examples of where you may be required to wear a mask are restaurants, grocery and retail stores. Here's the full list of states that require face masks in public.

To see if your city or state has issued a mandate, you can check with your local Chamber of Commerce or the Town Hall. 

To help you further understand the coronavirus and going out in public, here's how reopening will work one quarantine has lifted in your area, 16 tips to help you avoid coronavirus when going out in public and here's what we know about coronavirus at the beach, lake and pool.

Uplifting scenes of coronavirus solidarity around the world

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.