Quarantine survival guide: Making your own face mask and hand sanitizer
A comprehensive DIY guide to protecting yourself against COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on April 3 that people wear cloth face coverings in public spaces. The question then became where and how to get these face coverings, especially as medical professionals struggle to obtain necessary protective equipment such as surgical masks and N95 respirators. Luckily, everyone from home sewers to the CDC have released instructions and patterns to help transform household materials into homemade masks.
Masks, even makeshift ones, are important for helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 by preventing infected people from transmitting it to healthy people. New research, described in an April 3 Science Alert article, has found that up to 25% of people can be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers and unknowingly spread the disease. Making face coverings is important even for people who appear healthy, the CDC’s announcement explained. A cloth face covering is less effective than a surgical mask, but still “better than nothing,” according to an April 8 CNN article. Masks are not a substitute for social distancing or previously dictated measures. People who have symptoms or infected relatives should remain at home, and those who go outside should stay six feet apart from others, even if wearing a mask.
While these new findings and guidelines may be alarming, experts stress that people should not buy surgical or N95 masks for everyday activities like grocery shopping. Medical professionals and first responders need that equipment and are already facing shortages. Rather, people should make their own fabric masks at home.
The Justice created its own pattern, included in this article, for homemade masks that require minimal sewing and follow CDC guidelines. The CDC has also released instructions for face coverings that do not require sewing. Suggested materials are cotton t-shirts, bandanas or towels. Sewers and crafters have released a variety of more elaborate patterns for those with sophisticated materials.
No matter the pattern one decides to pursue, the mask should fit “snugly but comfortably” to the face, have “multiple layers of fabric” and allow for unrestricted breathing, per guidelines included with the CDC mask patterns. Anyone who has difficulty breathing, as well as children younger than two years old, should not wear masks.
Just wearing a mask is not enough, as the CNN article explains. Proper safety precautions must be taken to ensure the mask is being used as effectively as possible. Make sure, for instance, that your hands are clean before putting on the mask, and avoid touching or removing the mask in public. Once home, remove the mask using the ties or elastic at the back and avoid touching the front. You should wash your hands after removing the mask, immediately clean the mask, then wash your hands again. Masks can be hand-washed or sent through the washing machine.
Confident in your sewing abilities and looking to help? Many hospitals are accepting donations of homemade masks to help alleviate the strain that surgical and N95 mask shortages have put on medical workers. Homemade masks are not a substitute for N95 respirators or surgical masks, but they can be used to “extend the life of medical-grade masks,” a March 23 Fortune article explained. The University of Florida Health’s Department of Anesthesiology has also put together two patterns for masks that are intended for hospital use. These masks are to be made from Halyard H600 material, a medical fabric, and have passed the “fit test” that N95 respirators go through. Although they cannot replace N95 respirators, they appear to “provide similar particle filtering properties as commercial masks,” the UF website explains. The specialized materials and patterns are intended for medical professionals and are more complex than the masks everyday people would need to run errands. One historical costumer and board-certified doctor, whose Instagram handle is @sewstine, used Halyard H600 to test four mask patterns for potential hospital use and found one that passed the “fit test.” Her YouTube video provides a detailed explanation of the materials, making and use of the mask, as well as the research behind them.
It is important to note that donation guidelines differ from hospital to hospital, with some locations not accepting any homemade masks, and others requiring specific patterns or materials. Those who are looking to create and donate masks should research to see if their local hospitals have released guidelines and reach out if none exist. Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s donation guidelines, for example, prohibit homemade items. Homemade masks can also be donated to non-medical institutions, which may have more relaxed guidelines.
Hand sanitizer recipe:
Hand sanitizers, along with toilet paper and face masks, have become a rare commodity with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. Popular brands, such as Purell, have tried to meet the large demand of disinfectant products, with all 2,500 team members doing “everything they can to support public health during this time,” per the brand’s CEO. Faced with scarcity and high prices, many have turned to other brands or are making their own hand sanitizers. Several recipes have circulated around the internet, with some recommending the use of liquor products and others stating that essential oil blends are sufficient. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that frequent hand washing is the most efficient way to prevent infection and spread of the virus. However, in public spaces where hand washing might not be feasible, hand sanitizers or wipes are useful.
When looking at recipes online and attempting to make your own hand sanitizer, it is important to keep certain things in mind:
- Hand sanitizers are only effective when their alcohol contents are above 60%. When purchasing hand sanitizers of little-known brands or supplies to make your own, make sure to check the alcohol content. Isopropyl alcohol, available in pharmacies and supermarkets, is often recommended in DIY recipes.
- Essential oils on their own are not effective.
- Hard liquors like vodka, gin, whisky and tequila tend to have an alcohol level of between 40-50%, which makes them ineffective ingredients for hand sanitizers.
- Try to include ingredients like aloe vera that help keep your skin moisturized. Otherwise, your skin will become dry, making it more prone to wounds and, therefore, infections.
The Justice looked into some effective and reliable recipes that you can find below.
- ¾ cup of isopropyl or rubbing alcohol
- ¼ cup of aloe vera gel
- 10 drops of any essential oil. If you don’t have essential oils, use lemon juice.
- Pour all ingredients into a bowl, mix them together until you get a gel-like texture and pour the result into a plastic container
- In order to keep the alcohol level at or above 60%, keep the alcohol to aloe vera ratio at 2:1.
- Two cups of Everclear (or any other product with a high alcohol level)
- One cup of aloe vera gel
- Any kind of essential oil you like. Tea tree oil has some sanitizing properties, so it is recommended. Mint will also add a nice smell.
- Pour all ingredients into a bowl and mix them well. Keep in mind that alcohol, and therefore hand sanitizer, is highly flammable.
The World Health Organization also has a recipe for large-scale hand sanitizer production.Their recipe has many ingredients and is primarily intended for healthcare professionals.