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DIY Face Mask

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Summary

Active Time
30-45 minutes
Total Project Time
30-45 minutes
Key Concepts
Engineering design, public health, disease transmission
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Thank you to EPAM for sponsoring the development of this activity. EPAM is a leading global provider of software product development and digital platform engineering services to hundreds of Fortune 500 and 1000 clients located around the world. EPAM’s corporate social responsibility goals are driven by their values, correspond with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, and are guided by ISO 26000 standards, which provide guidance on how businesses can operate in a socially responsible way. EPAM is committed to serving as an ethical organization and sharing their time and talent to improve tech education around the world, contributing to the sustainability of their local communities.

Girl wearing homemade cloth mask with ribbon ties over nose and mouth to protect against COVID-19.

Introduction

To slow the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends wearing a mask or cloth face covering—particularly in places where it is impossible to maintain social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from others). This recommendation is for everyone age two or older (children under the age of two should not wear masks). Many instructions to make your own mask are available online. This activity will help you think through the process of designing and making a mask as an engineering problem. What factors should you consider to design a mask that works well for you, given the materials you have available?

This activity is not recommended for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.

Materials

Since this is an engineering activity, there is not a specific required list of materials. You will need to make use of the materials you have available. For example:

  • Cloth material like a bandana or old t-shirt
  • Hair ties or rubber bands
  • Optional: Pipe cleaners
  • Scissors
    Materials to make a DIY face mask

Prep Work

Before you make your own mask, think about the criteria required for making a good mask. According to the CDC, cloth face coverings should:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

In addition, it is very important that your mask is comfortable and stays in place. If you must constantly touch your face to readjust the mask, it will defeat the purpose of wearing the mask!

Remember that a homemade mask alone is not sufficient to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is just one preventative measure you can take, along with others like frequent hand washing, social distancing, and avoiding touching your face. It is also important to note that the homemade masks in this activity do not provide the same level of protection as an N-95 respirator.

Instructions

  1. Download three mask designs from the CDC. Look at the instructions in the download and figure out if you are going to make a mask that requires sewing or not.
    1. Think about the materials you have available. Specifically, figure out what cloth/fabric material(s) you have available to use as the main part of the mask.
    2. Figure out how you will attach this fabric to your face using string, rubber bands, hair ties, etc.; or even just strips of the fabric itself.
  2. Try making a mask using the materials you have and one of the sets of instructions from the CDC. If you do not have the exact materials the instructions suggest, you can try modifying one of their designs.
  3. Try your mask on and see how it fits.
    Think about:
    Does the mask fit snugly but comfortably against the sides of your face? Are there any gaps, for example around your nose or chin? Does the mask restrict your breathing at all?

    Girl wearing homemade cloth mask that fits over nose, mouth, and sits securely against side of face.
  4. If needed, modify your mask for a better fit. For example, you could:
    • Add a pipe cleaner "nose bridge" that will allow you to mold the top of the mask around your nose to get a better seal.
    • Change the shape of the piece of fabric so it fits better over your chin.
    • Adjust the length or tightness of the straps to make the mask fit snugly against your face.
  5. Try wearing the mask around your house as you do different actions like walking, opening doors, getting things off shelves, turning your head, standing up and sitting down, etc. Think about things you would do if you had to go to the store or to school.
    Think about:
    Does your mask stay on snugly and stay comfortable? How long can you wear the mask before you need to adjust it?
  6. If needed, make more changes to your mask and test it again. Make sure you can comfortably wear the mask for extended periods of time before you use it in public and that it meets all requirements laid out by the CDC:
    • fits snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
    • secured with ties or ear loops
    • includes multiple layers of fabric
    • allows for breathing without restriction
    • is able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Cleanup

After using it in public, machine-wash and dry your mask.

What Happened?

You might have found that it took a couple tries to get your mask "just right." Even if a mask fits and feels comfortable at first, that does not mean it will stay that way all day or when you are moving around a lot. For example, rubber bands might hurt your ears after a while, and fabric ties might start to come loose. It is important to identify these problems before you use the mask outside of your house. This makes designing a mask just like many other engineering problems, where engineers design and test a prototype before building the finished product.

In fact, engineering companies are lending their time and resources to help invent and manufacture more masks to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. In this video you can see the process EPAM Systems, Inc went through when designing the GENTL Mask which they have since released as an open source design for anyone to manufacture. Notice how they paid particular attention to small but important details like getting a good fit around the bridge of the nose.

Video: Gentl Mask

Digging Deeper

According to the CDC, "COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person in respiratory droplets from someone who is infected." Even though they do not provide the same level of protection as N-95 respirator masks, cloth masks can still help lessen the spread of the disease. People who have COVID-19 do not always show symptoms, so some people can walk around spreading the virus without even knowing they have it! If everyone wears masks, then people who have COVID-19 have a cloth barrier between them and the rest of the world. That means that virus-carrying droplets in their sneezes, coughs, and normal exhalations when breathing and talking are caught by the cloth and do not enter the air (or at least, fewer viral droplets do) and infect others. If we all assume we are infected and wear cloth masks in public, the virus has fewer chances to spread.

Student wearing a face mask to protect from spread of germs; STEM project to test and impove homemade masks
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For Further Exploration

  • Try making several different designs and testing to see which one works best for you. Does the same style work for all the members of your family?

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