Kind hearted crafters and sewing clubs across the nation have stepped up to fill the need for face masks in this time of crisis. Using fun fabrics and fast fingers, they sew, stack, and ship masks by the hundreds to meet a frantic demand.

But do homemade face masks work?

That’s the tricky part. Here’s what the CDC says:

“In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.”

And here’s the catch:

Viruses are among the smallest microbes on our planet. Microbiologists explain, “They are so small that 500 million viruses could fit on to the head of a pin.” And there are very few fabrics that have the ability to block the tiny virus particles of COVID-19.

A study done in 2013 looked at how effectively homemade masks could prevent the spread of flu viruses. A variety of household materials, including scarfs, antimicrobial pillowcases, vacuum-cleaner bags, and dish towels were tested.

At 86%, vacuum cleaner bags did the best job of filtering out viruses, but they made it hard for the wearer to breathe. Dish towels came in second place, but it was still too hard to breathe. The researchers found that doubling up the fabric of cotton t-shirts or pillowcases provided some protection and wearers could easily breathe.

The reality is that real face masks work 3 TIMES better than homemade ones. So, homemade face masks do provide “some” protection – and some is better than none.

The researchers concluded, “A homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection.”

Want to make your own masks?

While we can’t vouch for their efficacy, we have to agree that some protection is better than nothing at all. So if you want to make your own face mask, or ask a crafty friend to help you, Joanne Fabrics has a great online tutorial that walks you through the process.

When should you wear a mask?

It is not recommended that people wear masks to protect themselves in public. In fact, the public use of masks is likely driving the shortage. But, if you are a healthcare worker and your job requires you to come in close contact with clients to perform personal care, following these guidelines:

  • Wash your hands and put on gloves before coming in contact with the client.
  • Wear a mask for close contact with clients, even if you don’t have symptoms. You can still carry and pass the virus to others even if you don’t feel sick.
  • If the client has symptoms, put a mask on the client.
  • Limit talking while in close contact with clients.
  • Turn your head or walk away (if it’s safe to do so) to cough or sneeze.
  • Perform personal care quickly and efficiently to minimize the time you are in close contact.
  • Wash your hands after removing gloves.

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