What are the best patterns for sewing surgical masks?

The United States is going through a rough situation, which has been going on for the majority of the year. The coronavirus pandemic, which began earlier in the year, has been making us wear face masks daily, being the focus of many news and media outlets. People started to buy medical supplies in bulk and wholesale at first, when the scarcity and shortages of these items weren’t as pronounced. Now, many of them are very difficult to find for sale online for the general public, as many healthcare centers struggle to find them for themselves.

Right now, however, we’re much more informed than we were back in February, and cloth masks have been one of the most effective resources to prevent the spread of the disease. An item that, at first, scientists weren’t sure could make a difference in this situation, has become the main resource for virus control while the vaccine is still in the works.

These face masks offer the benefit of being easily made at home, and of being washable and reusable since they’re made of regular fabric. There are a lot of resources on the internet on how you can make one yourself, with or without a sewing machine, and today we’ll talk about the best patterns out there for face masks.

First, we have to explain what a surgical mask is, and why you can’t make one at home out of regular fabric and a sewing machine. These are disposable face masks manufactured to be used in medical, surgical, or dental procedures, labeled as such. They act mainly as a physical barrier that prevents any fluids from the environment, which can be released by people or during the procedure in the form of splashes, splatter, droplets, or sprays, and the wearer’s mouth and nose. It also works the other way around, preventing the user from releasing their fluids into the environment.

This is important because certain bodily fluids can carry pathogens that cause diseases when they reach the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose, mainly respiratory viruses. If a medical professional is performing a surgery or a medical procedure, it’s important for them not to contaminate the wound or the sterile field, and the same thing happens when they treat immunocompromised patients. It’s also important that splashes of blood or other fluids not enter the professional’s membranes, to prevent any potential diseases.

Surgical face masks are different from N95 masks, also known as N95 respirators, but they’re both disposable face masks that can be used with a face shield for more protection. Being disposable means that they can be used only once, and have to be properly discarded after. These masks can’t be shared either, and they need to be removed if they become wet or damaged, since they won’t work effectively anymore, and replaced with a different one.

These masks are sterile, and before and after handling it, be it to put it on, take it off, or to adjust it, the user must wash their hands to prevent contaminations of and from the face mask. They have to be handled by the ear-loops or head straps, and never by the inner or outer surface of the mask.

Unlike N95 and KN95 masks, surgical masks have a limited activity as a filter. They can only filter out large particles, while N95 masks can filter out airborne particles such as dust, smoke, and viruses like the flu and the novel coronavirus. They’re also more loose-fitting, allowing space for leakage of air, which means the wearer can inhale unfiltered air, while N95 respirators are required to be tight-fitting to prevent just that.

The best sewing patterns for masks that resemble a surgical mask

As we mentioned in our explanation of surgical masks, it’s easy to conclude that these can’t be made at home with regular fabric and a sewing machine. Manufacturing surgical masks is a complex process where they use non-woven fabric made out of polypropylene, which acts as a filter, and multiple layers of this particular fabric are welded together. Ear-loops are attached, and the finished face mask has to be sterilized.

But, many people enjoy the pleated style of these masks, finding them comfortable and good-looking, and are the preferred pattern to make reusable cloth masks. This can be achieved with regular fabric and a sewing machine, and there are a lot of resources on the internet with tutorials and patterns to make your own. You can even modify it to make it in a smaller size for kids over the age of 2. Here’s just one example of a surgical-like pleated face mask tutorial.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been the authority to follow when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have updated recommendations regarding face masks. As of today, they urge the general public to make use of these reusable cloth masks, in addition to hygiene measures and social distancing rules. These three activities combined have been considered enough for regular people who are not in high-risk situations (like healthcare providers and other workers on the frontlines) to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The CDC has urged also to reserve medical-grade face masks, including surgical masks and N95 respirators, including the 3M N95 masks in the models 3M 8511 and 3M 8210, for the healthcare workers and others on the frontlines of the pandemic. They’re in constant exposure to the virus, and the three measures listed above aren’t either possible or enough for them to stay protected. These face masks, along with other medical supplies, have been scarce during most of the year, and need to be prioritized for healthcare centers. 

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