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How to make a no-sew coronavirus mask with a T-shirt

You can make a mask in five minutes with a T-shirt.
(Lola Dutcher)
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As the “normal” in “new normal” changes daily because of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing feels certain: It looks like we will be wearing face masks for a long time.

Ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended cloth face coverings as a way to help curb the spread of COVID-19, people have been scrambling to find masks.

But now that Los Angeles County has required us to wear non-medical masks when conducting essential services, the demand has grown exponentially.

Local crafters and designers are making them and selling them online, but many are overwhelmed by demand and are experiencing production delays.

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You don’t need a sewing machine, or a needle and thread, to make a mask. Look online and you’ll find countless tutorials on how to use bandanas, sheets, even socks to create masks that will protect others when you venture outside your home.

High-quality cotton is a good choice for masks according to a recent study on homemade masks by the Manufacturing Development Center at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and that includes T-shirts.

After evaluating about 400 masks made by community volunteers, the study found that the best-performing mask was made with two layers of high-quality, heavyweight cotton.

If you’re not sure if your cotton T-shirt is a practical choice, hold the T-shirt up to a bright light. If light passes through the cotton, it’s probably not a good option in terms of removing particles.

I recently followed the CDC’s simple no-sew T-shirt face covering tutorial and made a mask in five minutes. It is rudimentary but comfortable and is better than wearing nothing at all.

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CDC Quick Cut T-shirt Face Covering (no sew method)
(CDC)

If I had to do it over again, I would have used a heavier fabric because my cotton T-shirt did not pass the “hold it up to the light” test recommended by the Wake Forest study team.

A cotton T-shirt can be cut and worn as a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19.
(Lisa Boone)

Measure 7 to 8 inches from the bottom of the T-shirt and cut.

T-shirt mask.
(Lisa Boone)

The CDC suggests cutting into that section by 6 to 7 inches to form the ties for the face mask. The length will depend on the size of the T-shirt and the person. I had to cut 14 inches from the edge for the mask to fit.

A T-shirt can be used as a no-sew, non-medical mask to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
(Lisa Boone )

Because the CDC recommends that face masks include multiple layers, I added a paper towel as an added filter. The leftover fabric can be used as well. In an interview with KCRW, Dr. Scott Segal of the Wake Forest Baptist study, said that blue shop towels worked well as filters but coffee filters did not.

You can make a mask in five minutes with a T-shirt.
(Lisa Boone )

In a pinch, the CDC’s no-sew T-shirt can be made in five minutes. The mask is rudimentary, but it beats wearing nothing at all.

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DIY Face Mask | NO SEW | Upcycled Tshirt | 5 Minutes

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This no-sew solution by crafter Jan Howell is another quick option that works well and is comfortable. It is designed to include multiple layers and you can add a filter for extra protection.

Recommendations from the Wake Forest Baptist study on homemade masks:

• Use two layers of high-grade, dense weave cotton fabric or one layer of basic cotton material with an inner layer of flannel.

• If you have access to a local quilting shop or online store, they will know what is meant by high-quality “quilter’s cotton.”

• The light test is pretty good at determining if a given material is suitable. If held up to a bright light, it shouldn’t be easy to see light coming through.

• Tie-on is better than earloops for better fit, but many are using ear loop design to make it easier to put on and take off.

• Don’t touch your face after positioning the mask!

• But don’t touch the mask face when removing! Touch by straps or loops when removing, then wash or sanitize your hands.

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• Let the mask dry after wearing; moisture from your breath makes them less effective. Wash them in a conventional way and air or machine dry. (Experts are testing the longevity of cloth masks after multiple washings but don’t have that data yet.)

• Avoid seams across the breathing area, but a pocket for insertion of additional filter material between the cloth layers is optional. (We didn’t find these additional materials to help, and sometimes made it harder to breathe through, but others have had some success with these designs.)

• No mask is as good as staying home, socially distancing, and using good hand hygiene.


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Lisa Boone is a design writer for the Los Angeles Times. Since 2003, she has covered home design, gardening, parenting, even youth sports, for the Home section and L.A. at Home. She is a native of Los Angeles.