Does Muslin Work for Face Masks?

Across the nation, there’s been a lot of debate over face masks. Some people wear a face mask each time they go out to a store, medical office, or business and never complain. Others believe masks don’t do a thing to protect you or say the government cannot tell them what to do. The goal is not just to protect yourself, but it’s also meant to protect others from you if you happen to be a carrier. People may not realize that you can be a carrier without showing symptoms.

In Japan, wearing a face mask is standard etiquette and has been for years. Osaka, Japan, has a population that’s similar to Chicago’s at 2.69 million. As of December 19th, Osaka’s had 26,477 total cases and 406 deaths. Compare those numbers to the current population of Chicago, which was just over 2.7 million in 2018. As of December 19, 2020, there have been 192,770 total cases in the city and 3,904 deaths.

Studies have looked at different aspects of mask-wearing, which is why they’re recommended and even required in some states. When worn correctly, they can be effective at reducing the transmission of COVID-19. It’s effective enough that the CDC reports up to 80% of respiratory droplets are blocked by surgical masks and up to 70% with a multi-layer cloth mask.

Many families have taken to making masks on their own to save money. Muslin is an affordable fabric, but how effective is it? Does muslin sheeting work for face masks?

The CDC’s Recommendations for Face Masks

Muslin is a 100% cotton fabric. It comes in different thicknesses. Sheeting is the tightest weave and is heavier than other forms. You want to aim for sheeting when making masks from muslin.

If you look at the CDC recommendations, the best COVID-19 masks are made from a breathable and washable fabric. You can wash muslin, which is important. After using your mask, you do need to wash it for the next day. A cloth mask is not going to protect you if you wear it day after day and never wash it.

Cotton is a breathable fabric. Cotton muslin is tightly woven to prevent droplets from getting out but doesn’t keep you from struggling to breathe. That makes it the best fabric for cloth face masks. You do need to create your mask by sewing together two or three layers. One layer is not enough.

The face mask must be large enough that it covers the nose and mouth. Ideally, get one that covers from just below the eyes to the bottom of the chin. It needs to fit tight to the sides of your face and not gap. A nose wire that molds the top of the mask to the bridge of your nose is best.

When you’re choosing muslin to make face masks, make sure you measure the sizes your family needs and purchase enough material to make at least two masks per person and in the appropriate sizes.

Elastic straps that go behind the ears are often the easiest mask to take on and off. Make sure you touch the loops when you take it off or put it on and don’t handle the mask. Never put on your mask if your hands haven’t been sanitized. Wash hands often in warm soapy water and ensure you lather for the full 20 seconds. If there’s no sink nearby, apply hand sanitizer.

The downside to elastic straps is that they do stretch out over time. For that reason, you may want to make your mask with ties that tie behind the head. You’ll have one tie towards the top of the head and the other nearer the back of the neck.

Make sure you wear the mask correctly. You should have the mask covering your nose and mouth. If the mask only covers your mouth, it’s not good enough. Droplets come out of both your nose and mouth, so you have to cover both of these areas.

Properly Wash Your Face Mask

After using a muslin face mask, you need to wash it. Wash them by hand in hot water and plenty of soap. You can also toss it into the wash with the rest of your clothes and dry it in a clothes dryer after washing it. If you must use bleach, use a small amount. Larger amounts can break down the cotton fibers and create holes.

Once washed, dry the mask thoroughly. If it’s sunny outside, dry it in the sun. UV rays can help kill bacteria and germs. The CDC recommends storing clean, dry face masks in paper bags until needed.

How to Make the Best COVID-19 Face Mask

Once you purchase muslin, what’s the best mask pattern? There have been several offered in the past year. You want to focus on a mask that is pleated as that gives you the best fit over the nose and chin. A pleated mask is less likely to slip or shift while you talk to a store clerk, doctor, etc.

The CDC has two recommended patterns. One doesn’t require sewing, but the other does.

No-Sew Mask: Fold a piece of cotton muslin into a rectangle that is wide enough to reach from the bridge of the nose to the chin. Fold that rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top. Place large rubber bands onto each end of the folded rectangle. You want the rubber bands to be about six inches apart and three inches in from the edge. Fold in each side to meet in the middle and tuck the ends into each other. The rubber bands stretch to wrap around each ear and the rest of the mask covers the nose, mouth, and chin.

Sewn Mask: A sewn mask is going to be better. Cut three 6-inch by 10-inch rectangles of fabric. Layer them on top of each other. Fold the top and bottom to create a 1/4-inch hem. Sew that by hand or with a sewing machine. Fold in each side about 1/4-inch and center a shoestring or stretch of elastic strand into each hem before you sew each edge. The shoe strings get tied behind the head, the elastic straps are each closed into a loop with a knot. Those loops become the loops that go around the ears. If the mask gaps, add two pleats on each side of the mask to help draw it closer to the head.

There are many free online websites with COVID-19 mask patterns out there. Start with the CDC’s guidelines. Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital is another good resource for mask patterns. If you prefer a video, Deaconess Health has an easy-to-follow video for how to make a face mask.

When you buy 100% cotton muslin to make face masks, buy enough so that you have extra material in case you mess up. Few people get the masks perfected on the first try. Muslin is affordable, so it doesn’t cost a lot to double up on the amount you need.

Chicago Canvas sells natural cotton muslin in widths of 9 to 39 feet. It has a smooth texture with a tight weave. At 6 ounces per square yard, it’s not too heavy. It’s not dyed or treated, so you’re not at risk of odors or chemicals that aren’t ideal for breathing in. Buy cotton muslin per running yard, or you can purchase it in 100-yard rolls in widths of 6, 8, or 10 feet. Would you like a sample of the cotton muslin sheeting? Call Chicago Canvas at 866-389-2218 to order a sample to see if it fits your needs.