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.

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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.

1
A vacuum cleaner bag

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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.

2
A dish towel

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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.

3
A cotton blend T-shirt

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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.

4
An antimicrobial pillowcase

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

5
A wool scarf

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

6
Linen

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

7
Silk

gray silk fabric folded on white background
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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.

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