Introduction: DIY T-shirt Mask

There is substantial debate about whether surgical masks (or DIY versions of these masks) are effective at preventing the spread of airborne pathogens, but research seems to indicate that they can help. If you cannot get a commercially manufactured mask (likely the best option), you may want to make your own. There are numerous designs out there, but most involve sewing. Sewing masks will give you a durable and washable mask, but if you need something quickly and do not have access to a sewing machine, here is an alternative (based loosely off of this stiched design).

For materials we need a 100% cotton t-shirt, some heavy-duty duct tape (e.g., Gorilla Tape, 2” wide), bendable wire (e.g., the closure from a bag of coffee) and, optionally, a Swifter-style pad. The only tools you will need are scissors, ruler, and a hole punch (and wire cutters if you value the blades of your scissors).

The cotton t-shirt material was chosen because research has shown that material to be a good balance between breathability and filtration. There seems to be minimal improvement when the material is doubled, so you may opt for a single-layer mask without the pocket.

Disclaimer: This tutorial does not constitute medical advice and I am not a medical expert—caveat emptor. Please keep your distance, wash your hands, and keep your cooties to yourself.


100% cotton t-shirt

heavy-duty duct tape (e.g., Gorilla Tape, 2” wide)

bendable wire (e.g., the closure from a bag of coffee)

Swifter-style pad (optional)

Tools: scissors, ruler, and a hole punch (and wire cutters if you value the blades of your scissors).

Step 1: Cut Fabric

Cut a piece of t-shirt into a rectangle ~ 7x10” (18 x 25.5 cm). Making this slightly longer will allow for more overlap in the pocket.

Step 2: Fold

Fold bottom up to create a 3” (7.5 cm) pocket. Then fold the top 2” (5 cm) down. The flaps should overlap slightly.

Step 3: Add Tabs

Cut four 1 x 2” (2.5 x 5 cm) pieces of heavy-duty duct tape (e.g., Gorilla Tape). Place on the corners.

Fold the tape over, leaving a 1/2” (1.25 cm) tab that is taped to itself. Punch holes in these tabs.

Step 4: Create Pleats.

Fold edges over to create a small pleat. The final distance between the inside edges of the tape tabs should be 2” (5 cm).

Cut a 2 x 2” (5 x 5 cm) piece of tape , and tape the pleated edge closed.

Step 5: Add Nose Wire

Cut a 3.5” (9 cm) piece of tape, and then cut 0.5” (1.25 cm) off the long edge. Tape the smaller piece in the center of the larger piece and then attach the tape to the top of the inside of the mask (i.e., where the pocket opening is). Fold over and press hard so that the tape adheres well.

Next, remove the metal piece on a coffee bag and cut in half (pipe cleaners would also work). Place one piece under the tape bridge you created and bend the wire to fit the bridge of your nose.

Step 6: Add Straps

Cut two 1x10” (2.5 x 25.5 cm) pieces of t-shirt material, making sure to cut so that the fabric stretches along the long edge. Tie these on the bottom tabs using two half hitches (basically tie an overhand knot and then go over one more time). Tie a simple overhand knot on the top that you do not snug up too much; you will need to adjust this to get the right length.

Step 7: Add "filter" (optional).

If you want to add a “filter” layer, you can cut half of a Swifter-style pad and place in the mask pocket.

Step 8: Finished

You may experience fogging of glasses with this design. One option is to fold the edges (where you made the pleats) to create vents along the sides. You could make these more permanent by adding wire inserts there, similar to the nose bridge. Just make sure that most of your intake breath is coming through the mask and not from the sides.

Do not let this mask give you a false sense of security. There is no substitute for social distancing and frequent hand washing. Davies et al. (2013) emphasize that, “any mask, no matter how efficient at filtration or how good the seal, will have minimal effect if it is not used in conjunction with other preventative measures, such as isolation of infected cases, immunization, good respiratory etiquette, and regular hand hygiene.” They go on to conclude that homemade masks should be considered a last resort, but will be better than no protection at all.

Davies, A., K.-A. Thompson, K. Giri, G. Kafatos, J. Walker, and A. Bennett. 2013. Testing the efficacy of homemade masks: would they protect in an influenza pandemic? Disaster medicine and public health preparedness 7:413–418.