Dust masks, cycle masks, N95s, even bandanas and scarves…. What are the differences and why are they important right now?

Wearing a face covering is now mandatory on public transport and from 24 July will also be required when visiting all shops and supermarkets, with people who do not comply risking fines. They are also advised to be worn in any enclosed areas where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

The requirement to wear a face covering does not apply to children under 11 and people with certain disabilities. Please visit the GOV.UK website for a full list of exemptions

While fabric face coverings are certainly not a replacement for the official medical grade PPE (personal protective equipment) required in a professional setting, they can help to reduce the risk of transmission. They needn’t be the important medical grade masks that should be reserved for our front-line health workers and carers.

In short, masks help protect others if you don’t know if you are carrying something contagious. So read on to find out how to make your own home-made face covering below!

Important note: If you have coronavirus symptoms, wearing a mask is not a replacement for self-isolating. Please remain at home for ten days and call NHS 111 if you condition deteriorates.

For more information on the stay at home guidelines visit the GOV.UK website.

What are the different face coverings available?

There are many options out there for ways to cover your face. As we have already mentioned, official PPE masks are best left for the front-line workers, so what options are still available to you?

  • N95 masks: So named because they block out 95% of all airborne particles. These are the ones for the front-liners and not recommended for public use. They are intended for use by healthcare workers in close proximity to coronavirus patients.
  • Surgical masks: Single use, fairly loose fitting, and best used for a short amount of time. They become less effective when damp, which happens because of moisture from your breath. Must be disposed of immediately and safely once removed from your face.
  • Dust masks: The humble builders mask! Provides a tight fit which scientist say is the most important feature of an effective face covering.
  • Cycling masks: As seen being sported by Gwyneth Paltrow and designed to protect city cyclists from road pollution. Should be washed or have filters changed regularly depending on the design, and be sure not to use the ones that have a vent to help your breath leave the mask.
  • Scarf or bandana: Probably the easiest of all these items to access. While these obviously lack filters or medical grade materials, they will still prevent you from breathing all over other people. And… a bandana sort of makes you feel like a bandit while out and about. What’s not to love?
  • Homemade mask: As with the scarves and bandanas, you can repurpose old t-shirts into rudimentary (and comfy!) face coverings. See below for a step-by-step guide.

Making your own mask:

The important thing to remember with face coverings is that they cover your mouth and nose while still allowing you to breathe comfortably. GOV.UK have issued instructions on their website on how to make two different types of home-made mask from items you may have at home. We have road-tested the simplest one for you, with some tweaks and tips to ensure a perfect fit.

For this method all you need is an old t-shirt and some scissors. That’s it!

  • Lay your shirt flat and measure 20cm from the bottom of the shirt.
  • Cut straight across. As this will make up the depth of material which will cover you face, adjust accordingly. The smaller the better with the t-shirt size here, but if you only have larger sizes to hand you may be able to make two from this strip. If you are making two, cut off the side seams and fold one piece in half as we have done below.
  • SAFETY NOTE: Scissors are sharp! Please be careful, even if you do have really fetching leopard-print plasters around to accessorise with.
  • You need roughly 20cm of material to cover the width of your face, so measure 10cm in from the folded side and cut along 2cm in from the top and bottom to create straps.
  • Cut upwards to remove the squares between the straps and you have a very basic, but functional mask.
  • Experiment a bit with the sizes needed to suit your face and trim away any excess.

Top tip: if you cross over the straps by tying the top left to the bottom right and vice-versa you will get a closer fit and shouldn’t get any gaps.

(Bonus tip: Make sure it’s a clean t-shirt, this has got to go on your face. 😉)