A DIY Guide To Making Alternative Face Masks

Forget The Bra Masks—It’s Time To Level Up Your Face Mask Game

Face masks that were once plentiful around Japan have become near impossible to get a hold of nowadays. We investigate some DIY face masks alternatives that can actually protect you, and the people around you, from viruses.

Face masks, once easily attained at every convenience store and drugstore in Japan, are now basically mythical objects worth their weight in gold—if you’re really lucky you can even get a toilet paper and face masks bundle online. We love the humorous examples of useless alternative face masks that showcase creativity, but they lack the effectiveness that a properly crafted mask provides. As the world face mask supply dwindles, we can be crafty and practical with these DIY face mask designs that are recommended by medical experts like the CDC (Center for Disease Control).

Why are face masks important?

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face masks when social distancing is hard to maintain, such as in grocery stores. Actually, some areas of the world are even requiring all its citizens to wear a mask when going out in public, period.

Face masks’ main means of action to slow the spread of the coronavirus is to prevent people who are unknowingly infected from transmitting the virus to others. Some face covering is also better than nothing in preventing the virus from entering the body of an uninfected person so if you have to go out, you should definitely wear one. 

Safety Note

Face masks should not be used by infants, those who have trouble breathing, or who are unable to remove the mask without assistance. With all face masks, if you are finding it hard to breathe, or if you feel lightheaded or get a headache, it’s best to take a break from the mask in a less-populated area—especially if you are not used to wearing one.

1. Sewn Cloth Face Covering

Alternative face mask recommended by the CDC


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Get your sewing needles (or sewing machine) out for this first DIY face mask tutorial! This sewn face mask is really simple to make. You’ll need two rectangular pieces of fabric that will act as a mask, and two pieces of elastic (or cloth strips or hair ties) plus a needle and thread to tie it down. The pieces of fabric can be taken out from old clothes and all other materials can be easily found in your craft drawer. 

After layering the two rectangular pieces, fold over the long sides of the mask and hem them—see Instagram videos for reference. Then, fold over the short side of the mask and stitch them while leaving enough space for an elastic band to be threaded through. Use elastics or anything else that can be looped around your ears or tied around your head to pass through the short ends of the mask. You can stitch the elastics in place once you’ve made sure the mask fits your face suitably. 

When deciding on the fabric for your mask, choose tightly woven fabric without a lot of stretch, such as high thread count cotton. Experts recommend using multiple layers of fabric, but be sure to test the mask’s breathability by first breathing with it in front of your mouth without sewing anything.

2. Pleated Surgical-Style Face Covering

Alternative face mask recommended by Kaiser Permanente


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If you’re sewing-savvy—and we’re savvy people—here’s an upgraded DIY face mask that requires a trick called ‘pleating’: a fold where you double the fabric back onto itself. This technique allows the face mask to ripple outwards, creating a more natural shape to cover and adapt to your mouth and nose. These pleats can be found in regular surgical masks as well! 

The initial fabric length for this tutorial is much longer than the previous simple cloth mask, because of the pleating that takes place. In the end, however, both masks should be the same size and fit snugly over your mouth and nose. 

3. T-Shirt Covering

Alternative face mask recommended by the CDC


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Making an alternative DIY face mask out of the bottom of a T-Shirt is a quick and dirty way to get yourself covered—but will work wonders when in a hurry. All you need is an old T-Shirt (preferably 100% cotton or cotton blend woven): cut a wide enough strip starting from the bottom, to cover your face. While it’s folded in half, cut a smaller rectangle out of it so you have the mask section, and the thinner T-Shirt strips to tie around your head. Ta-da! 

Another option—even quicker—is to use a t-shirt (or scarf, any piece of cloth that is not too thick) and a rubber band to create a face mask in minutes with no sewing or cutting required.

Medical experts recommend using more than one layer of fabric for a DIY face mask so if you have the time and the resources, you can layer another piece of T-Shirt fabric on the section of the mask that goes over your face, and sew it in place. Or just make a second mask in the same way and wear them both! Again, test the breathability or your set-up before getting out! 

4. Bandana + Coffee Filter Face Covering

Alternative face mask recommended by the CDC

This creative, no-sew DIY alternative face mask is easy to put together and only requires three materials: a bandana, a coffee filter (or any kind of filter that you have), and hair bands or rubber bands. Ok, maybe we showed you a slightly less serious version of this mask before but bear with us this time. 

Cut off the top of a coffee filter and place it in the middle of a folded bandana. Fold the bandana again over the coffee filter, so it’s sitting in the center of the folds. Slip the hair ties or rubber bands over the bandana, then fold the ends of the bandana in and tuck one side into the other. Place the bandana over your mouth, then pull the elastics over your ears.

The great part about this face mask is that the exterior is reusable, and you can dispose of the filter after each use to replace it with a fresh one. 

5. Face Mask With Filter Pocket


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The last alternative mask of this list is another one for the sewing-savvy! This face mask including a filter pocket is a similar concept to the bandana+coffee filter mask, in that the exterior is washable (and therefore reusable) and you can use disposable filters in the center. The pleated surgical-style mask is sewn so there is a small opening inside, where you can insert and take out disposable filters for added protection. 

This tutorial for a face mask with a filter pocket also includes instructions on how to add a metal fitting that you can clamp around the bridge of your nose—especially useful when masks don’t your nose with usual masks. This added touch means extra security because it reduces the gaps between the mask and your face for airborne particles to travel through.

What didn’t make the list?

Making a mask out of HEPA vacuum bags is a trending DIY alternative: HEPA filters capture 99.9% of tiny airborne particles. However, manufacturers of HEPA bags have released warnings about using their materials for face masks as many bag types contain microscopic glass fibers, which can cause respiratory diseases when inhaled. Even 3M, a company making fiberglass-free HVAC filters and air purification filters, stated that using their filters for respiratory protection is “not recommended”. It’s a big no! 

Made a few extra face masks?

Why not donate them to an organization that needs masks, like the places listed on MasksForHeroes? You can also put a message in the hall of your building or contact your city hall to see if anyone is needing some at the moment, these times call for our compassion.

These options should only be used when you have no other options than going out, the only way to be perfectly safe and protect everyone else being to #StayAtHome. Scared you will get bored or go crazy? No worries, Savvy Tokyo got you covered.

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