Face Coverings - FAQs

07 May 2020

Face Coverings - FAQs

What follows is a list of frequently asked questions around the making and wearing of face coverings, the answers to which we hope you will find useful. As we try out more patterns, adapt our masks and learn more, we will update this information. If you have a question that is not addressed, please let us know and we will endeavour to answer it and add the information to the list below.

Why wear a face covering?

There is a growing body of evidence that although face coverings may not prevent an individual from getting infected, they do help to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Whilst wearing any face covering, please follow government guidelines, isolate if you show any symptoms, maintain 2 metres of physical distance, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, and try not to touch your face.

What counts as a face covering?

A face covering is a piece of material that covers your mouth and nose and prevents large droplets being exhaled into a public space. This could be a scarf or a bandana or something made specifically to be worn as a face mask. The thicker the material, the more effectively it will filter droplets, but comfort is important.

Whichever face covering you choose, it needs to allow you to breathe easily, to fit well and be held securely in position for several hours, without the need to keep touching your face. Good masks are designed to achieve all these aims.

Can I make a mask without sewing?

There are a number of great ‘no-sew’ face covering options available. We have been road-testing a number of easy to make masks and very much like this comfortable, secure mask, that simply requires fabric and a pair of scissors to make it. We advise you watch the video before starting to make, so that you can cut that fabric out in a less wasteful way. Don’t forget to think about the width and depth of the mask in relation to the dimensions of your face before cutting. For more guidance on this, see the section below: How do I ensure a good fit? 

Link to no-sew mask: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MaorozC4Tk

What mask designs are good for keen, competent sewers?

The Good Life Centre have produced the excellent how-to-make guide for a pleated mask. It makes for a lightweight and comfortable face covering that can be worn for quite some time. If you find something hooking over your ears uncomfortable, see the section below: What to do if I wear hearing aids?

We also like these two patterns from Pajotten. The first loops over the ears, whilst the second is tied round the back of the head. We found it more comfortable and secure to adapt this design by splitting the lengths that tie around the back of the head into two sets of ties (four lengths in total). This enables one set of ties to be knotted high and the other lower, giving greater purchase over the face.

Link to pleated mask by The Good Life Centre: https://www.thegoodlifecentre.co.uk/my-mask-protects-you-your-mask-protects-me/

Pajotten mask pattern 1: https://pajotten.com/blogs/news/face-masks

Pajotten mask pattern 2: https://drive.google.com/file/d/18uK9tGYvnbz8MvijmHB_DjoHqaVKhKpr/view

What material should I use?

There is limited research on which household materials perform best at filtering viruses and stopping us from expelling them, whilst also allowing us to breathe comfortably. The research that does exist suggests that denser materials with tighter weaves are better for face coverings. 

In order to interrogate the fabrics you may have at home, a useful guide is to hold the fabrics up to the light and choose the one that lets the least light through. Dense, tightly woven fabrics such as denim, a thick t-shirt or sweatshirt, a tightly woven towel, tea towel or a pillowcase work well, but remember, no material is a substitute for social distancing and good hand hygiene.

The latest paper on the topic suggests that combining one outer layer of a tightly woven cotton with two inner layers of silk or chiffon can provide more protection than these individual materials on their own. 

How do I ensure a good fit?

It may sound obvious, but before cutting into any fabric, consider how big your face is. Many designs understandably take a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but this is not always the case. Adjusting a poorly fitting, slipping mask involves touching your face which you will need to avoid as much as possible. Ensuring your face covering fits you well, means it will also be more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

Offer fabric up to your face to gauge how much you will need. If you have string or a tape measure, take some measurements of the width and depth of your face and transfer these to the fabric. If you have no tools available, measure using the span of an outstretched hand or the width of a palm. Don’t forget to consider the space under your chin as well.

My glasses keep steaming up! What can I do?

The steaming up of glasses when wearing a mask is difficult to avoid. As one breathes out, hot damp breath is funnelled up from under the mask and condenses on the lenses. The effect is even worse if your glasses are cold and the mask is not a snug fit around the nose area, directly below the spectacles. 

One small adjustment that works well is to ensure your glasses go on over the top of the face covering, so the fabric is against your skin and pushed down by the glasses resting on top of it. We have also found that washing your glasses with shampoo leaves a thin film on the surface of the lenses that can help to reduce the amount of fog that forms. Incorporating a thin strip of wire along the top edge of your mask, to help the fabric follow the contours of your face, will also help.

What to do if I wear hearing aids?

Mask designs that rely upon looping over the ears can be problematic for some hearing aid users. We recommend steering clear of the ear-loop type face coverings and going for something that ties around the back of your head. If you only have an ear-loop type face covering available however, try using an ‘ear saver’. This device is placed around the back of the head and has notches cut into it or some way of looping the masks onto this device, avoiding the need to hook onto the ears. A rectangle of fabric with two buttons sewn on works well, as does cutting the shape out of a section of plastic bottle.

We haven’t been able to test out any lip-reading face mask designs yet, but we have put out a design for a transparent DIY face visor that’s made from a readily available polypropylene document folder. Like a mask, a face shield should also reduce the risk of the wearer spreading COVID-19. 

How should I clean my face covering?

From an environmental perspective it is best if you put your fabric masks into your normal mixed coloured wash. This minimises the associated CO2 emissions and is effective in the same way that washing your hands for 20 seconds is effective against the the spread of COVID-19. For this reason, we recommend you have several face coverings which you can rotate so there is always one clean and ready to go for each person in the household. If you do not have access to a washing machine, vigorous washing by hand and scrubbing with detergent is advised.

How should I take my mask off?

You need to treat the face covering as contaminated with the COVID-19 virus whenever you take it off. At home it should be placed in the dirty washing basket or bag (or directly into the washing machine) and you should then wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. If you take off your mask whilst outside the home, put it into a sealed bag and wash or sanitise your hands immediately afterwards. 

The COVID-19 virus has a half-life of a few hours and so if you leave contaminated face coverings untouched for 72 hours, the masks are likely to be decontaminated through natural processes. Sunlight and heat speed up these natural degradation processes.  

Why not just use disposable masks?

Disposable masks are made from layers of plastic and are unrecyclable. UCL research shows that if mask wearing was enforced for a year in the UK and everyone wore one disposable mask a day, that would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste. It would also create much higher CO2 emissions than reusable face coverings, due to the transport and manufacture of those disposable masks.

Further Reading

A review of the evidence on effectiveness of wearing face masks from the Royal Society: https://royalsociety.org/news/2020/05/delve-group-publishes-evidence-paper-on-use-of-face-masks/

An environmental audit of disposable masks versus reusable masks: https://www.plasticwastehub.org.uk/news/the-environmental-dangers-of-employing-single-use-face-masks-as-part-of-a-covid-19-exit-strategy

A guide to the efficacy of household cleaning products:  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2020/mar/analysis-household-cleaning-products-which-are-effective-against-coronavirus


Davies, A., Thompson, K.A., Giri, K., Kafatos, G., Walker, J. and Bennett, A., 2013. Testing the efficacy of homemade masks: would they protect in an influenza pandemic? Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 7(4), pp.413-418.

Howard, J., Huang, A., Li, Z., Tufekci, Z., Zdimal, V., van der Westhuizen, H.M., von Delft, A., Price, A., Fridman, L., Tang, L.H. and Tang, V., 2020. Face masks against COVID-19: an evidence review. Preprints 2020, 2020040203 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202004.0203.v1). 

Konda, A., Prakash, A., Moss, G.A., Schmoldt, M., Grant, G.D. and Guha, S., 2020. Aerosol filtration efficiency of common fabrics used in respiratory cloth masks. ACS Nano 14(5), 6339–6347.

Rengasamy, S., Eimer, B. and Shaffer, R.E., 2010. Simple respiratory protection—evaluation of the filtration performance of cloth masks and common fabric materials against 20–1000 nm size particles. Annals of Occupational Hygiene, 54(7), 789-798.

van der Sande, M., Teunis, P. and Sabel, R., 2008. Professional and home-made face masks reduce exposure to respiratory infections among the general population. PLoS One, 3(7).