The 7 Best Materials for Making Your Own Face Mask, Backed by Science

The CDC is recommending all Americans now wear masks outside. Here are the best materials to use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially recommended that all Americans wear protective masks outside to help curtail the spread of the COVID-19 contagion. Previously, the CDC recommended that only individuals who were sick wear masks, but that was when far less data was available. There was also a serious concern that a run on masks from "civilians" would create a supply shortage for health care workers. Many do-it-yourself approaches for homemade masks have now popped up online, but if you don't know your way around a sewing machine, then all hope isn't lost. You can cut up household material in the pattern of a surgical mask as the next best option. But what type of material is the most effective for a face mask?

In a 2013 study from Cambridge University, researchers tested household materials to find out which ones did the best job capturing bacteria and viruses. Here's how they rank.

A vacuum cleaner bag

blue vacuum cleaner bag on white background

A vacuum cleaner bag should be your first option of material to use to cover your face. It will require some clever cutting and rubber-band attachments to serve as a facial mask, but if you can figure that DIY part out, then know that it is 95 percent as effective as a surgical mask.

A dish towel

dish towel folded on wood background

Next on the list of household items that you can fashion into a mask? The common dish towel. According to the Cambridge research, this material is 82 percent as effective as a surgical mask.

A cotton blend T-shirt

white t-shirt folded on wood background

The cotton blend T-shirt also serves reasonably well as a protective material. A cotton blend shirt is 74 percent as effective as a surgical mask, though a T-shirt that is 100-percent cotton is slightly less effective at 69 percent.

An antimicrobial pillowcase

white pillow on the bed in the bedroom with woman 's hand who are making the room.

An antimicrobial pillowcase clocks in at 65 percent as effective as a surgical mask. A normal, non-antimicrobial pillowcase does slightly less well at 60 percent.

A wool scarf

gray ombre wool scarf on wood

A woolen scarf is another decent alternative. The Cambridge researchers deemed it 62 percent as effective as a surgical mask.


pile of linen material on wood boards

Have a linen tablecloth you can part with? That's another option at 60 percent as effective as a surgical mask.


gray silk fabric folded on white background

If you have none of the materials above available, but have silk on hand, know that it's 58 percent as effective as a surgical mask.

Filed Under