How to Make an Effective Reusable Face Mask


Me with a face mask on

The goal of this article is to show you how to create a mask that is effective against respiratory viruses using materials found in most households. No mask is 100%, as seen by the study in part 1 comparing N95 to surgical masks. My other criteria are that, not only must it meet some known standard of protection, but must also be reusable, washable and comfortable enough that you could wear for hours if you had to.

Logic tells me that we need to practice universal precautions. If everyone, absolutely everyone, is wearing some sort of mask all the time and with the addition of proper hand hygiene, it would really help stem this Covid19 pandemic.

We need to assume EVERYONE has a Covid19 infection because asymptomatic carriers can still spread the infection. This is called presymptomatic transmission. We can technically get sick without face to face contact too. Covid19 can stay in the air for up to 3 hours after someone coughs. Wearing a mask all the time will help prevent that method of transmission.

Let’s go step by step as to how to make an Effective Reusable Face Mask.

What fabric to use? 

For fabric, I recommend using 100% cotton. Cotton is highly absorbable, so things tend to stick to it (but not water resistance). Also cotton is washable in hot water and high heat of dryer and comfortable against your skin. I chose to use the color white because it allows for the option to use bleach in the wash (more about this in part 3).

Thicker bed sheets, pillow cases or dress shirt with high thread count are other options for fabric. I bought 100% white cotton fabric from Joann Fabrics. The fabric was probably too thin to use as a single layer. I hoped the weave would tighten after I pre-washed it in hot water and high heat of dryer. It did, but not enough. With 100% cotton, you need to pre-shrink the fabric in hot water and high heat of dryer before sewing with it. If you don’t, your finished product, in this case your mask, will shrink after it’s first hot water or high heat dryer exposure. I decided that with my current fabric, to use it as a double layer so that it was thick enough that I can not see through it. In your finished product, when you hold it up to the light, you should not be able to see through it. If you can see through it, it is not a good filter.

As you will see later, with the mask pattern that I used, I ended up with a mask that was 4 layers thick with a pocket. The pocket allows for the option to put additional protective filter(s). I made a 15 x 15 inch cardboard template to guide cutting out the fabric pieces. The fabric was folded in half and ironed to remove the wrinkles and flatten the fold. Final fabric piece was 15 x 7.5 inch as required by the YouTube video. If your starting fabric is thick enough, you can cut it into 15 x 7.5 inch pieces.

This is the pattern I used: Youtube video . One thing I saw wrong about other Youtube videos was they used pins which puts holes in the mask! No Pins Please. This definitely would reduce effectiveness. Use sewing clips as depicted in this video. It is very well done and easy to follow. Plus love the pocket.

Below is a chart showing how various fabrics compare when it comes to filtering 0.3 micron sized particles . The CEO of Smart Filter, Paddy Robertson has several evidence based presentations with materials they have either tested in their lab or have references to published data. It appears to be trustworthy.

According to this website, out of all the household materials they experimented with, paper towels do not work very well (hence not shown here) but a double layer of dish towels was superior. 

DIY mask materials ranked
Double layer of dish towel is same as surgical mask effectiveness

Based on these results, a mask made of 2 layers of tea/dish towel has the same filtering effects as a surgical face mask. Therefore, I decided to use a double layer of tea towel in the pocket of my homemade mask. (Update: my Hepa filter Vacuum bags arrived and I am also using them too). These 2 materials should be close to effectiveness of a surgical mask.


Breathability of Various Materials

You can see that as the breathability goes up, the effectiveness goes down. Another reason why I like the mask with the pocket. You can personally vary the comfort of the mask with various inserts, knowing that with increases in effectiveness there is also an increase the airflow resistance. Increased air resistance makes every breath a little harder. Having 2 separate parts to the mask allows for more flexibility, easer to replace insert if a part wears out and easier to clean.

Pocket Insert Material. For the pocket of my face mask, I cut out 2 pieces of preshrunk dish towel to 5 x 5.5 inch pieces. The 2 layers were sewn together with a zigzag stitch, then a straight stitch around the edges. I will be experimenting with a Hepa filter when it arrives from Amazon in a few days. Will re-post then as to its comfort level compared with double layer of tea towel. Following up – they are both are not easy to breath thru.

For the nose piece wire, I used aluminum jewelry wire. But 2 pieces of twist tie or gardening wire would work too. A small strip of foam was glued over the wire area for comfort. Other fabrics instead of foam could be felt, fleece or piece of an old sweat shirt. The elastic bands were 12 inches. Other substitutes for elastic bands are rubber bands, ribbon, shoe strings, cutting a wider elastic band into multiple strips.

Mask effectiveness Before and after 3 hrs of use

How many hours can the same mask be worn and still be effective? Smartfilter tested N95 and Surgical masks for up to 3 hours and the masks were still performing well. Unknown how it performs beyond that time. For the pocket masks you can change out the filter at about 3 hours or even change out the mask if your mask tends to get a moisture build up. You have to have a spare ready to go.

Mask Longevity Test at: New 99.4%; 20 days 99.1%; 30 days 99.5%

How many times can I reuse my N95 mask? Smartfilter tested the an N95 mask for up to 30 days and there was only a slight decrease in performance. New mask, 20 days, 30 days respectively: 99.4%, 99.1%, 99.5%.  With the homemade pocket mask, washing creates some fiber loss. How critical this is has not been tested. If depends on many factors, hence be gentle with it. But you can change out the insert for a new one easily – Hepa or a double layer of tea towel are the recommended inserts. The mask itself becomes the framework.


Note: Having a beard reduces face mask efficacy so an additional gaiter mask is necessary. The gaiter covers your beard, reducing virus accumulation in your beard. But a gaiter mask alone can create more aerosolized Covid droplets that linger in the air. I don’t recommend wearing a gaiter alone.

Part 3 will cover how to sanitize your reusable mask. The researchers found that the best homemade masks had 79 percent filtration, compared to surgical masks (62 percent to 65 percent) and N95 masks (97 percent). But some masks only had 1 percent filtration. The best design was made of two layers of high-quality, heavyweight quilter’s cotton, with a thread count of 180 or more. Fabrics with an especially tight weave and thicker thread such as batiks also did well. A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and an inner layer of flannel got good marks as well. Single-layer masks or double-layer masks that were made with lightweight cotton performed the worst.

Go Dodgers 2020

This blog is in no way meant to give any medical advice, diagnosis or treat. 

Everyone’s situation is different.

1 thought on “How to Make an Effective Reusable Face Mask”

  1. Elaine! Thank you so much!!! I have shared to many:) L, S

    Seetal Cheema, MD

    Seetal Cheema, MD, PC Seetal Cheema Wellness acupuncture * yoga * pain management

    Mailing Address: 5482 Wilshire Boulevard, Number 320 Los Angeles, CA 90036

    Phone: 855.713.0334 Fax: 323.297.2772 @seetalcheema


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