Blue Shop Towels

For several weeks now my daughter and I have been wearing masks that I’ve made out of blue shop towels. There are a number of articles online that have identified blue shop towels as a particularly good filter for COVID-19, and I have found them to be an inexpensive and easy medium to work with.

For those of you who’d like to give it a try, here’s my method for constructing the masks.

Here are the basic supplies: Blue shop towels, rubber bands (big enough to encircle ears), and a stapler with staples. I bought everything in this picture – including the little stapler – from my local Walmart for less than five dollars. Since there are 100 rubber bands in the package, that means I can make 50 masks without spending another cent.

The towels come in a roll much like a roll of paper towels. In fact, if they weren’t blue, you could easily mistake it for a roll of paper towels. There are 55 squares in each roll. First, we start with one square.

Notice that the square is not exactly square.

Now, because the square is not exactly square, you will need to decide whether you want your mask to fit tightly or more loosely. I am not particularly big or small, and I chose the tighter fit and it’s comfortable on my face. If you have a larger face, you may choose looser. For a tighter fit, fold the square in half with the perforated edges on each end. For a looser fit, do the opposite.

Here I have folded the towel square in half with the perforated edges on each side.

Then I fold again and crease.

Fold again and crease.

Unfold the square just once and mark lightly on each side where the center is creased.

Unfold and mark the center crease lightly on each side.

Flip the folded square over and pin back a pleat on each top and bottom edge. The pleat should be folded about one-third of the distance toward the inner crease that was marked in the previous step. I find it helpful to pin the pleats in place.

Pleat and fasten.

Flip the mask over again. This is the most difficult step, and still it isn’t particularly hard. Place a rubber band at each end of the mask. Fold each pleat over the rubber band to the marked center and fasten it there.

With a rubber band and each side of the mask, fold the pleats over the band to the previously marked center and pin in place.

Now all you have to do is fasten each pleat with a staple. If you are able to sew the pleats in place, either by hand or by machine, that’s an option as well. I’ve also used fabric glue successfully instead of stapling, although I find glue a little more messy than desirable. And of course glue takes a little time to dry and may leave a slight odor behind for a time.

Additionally, if you can find larger hair ties – ones intended for thicker hair – those can be used instead of rubber bands. Obviously, that drives the cost up considerably. I’ve been able to get one package of twenty hair ties for a little less than five dollars, so using hair ties instead of rubber bands costs about fifty cents per mask. Frankly, larger hair ties have been pretty hard to find right now with everyone busy sewing and making masks.

Because the blue towel and rubber band masks cost less than a dime and take less than five minutes to make each, I’ve been giving these away in my apartment building. I make them on my disinfected kitchen counter while wearing rubber gloves and a face mask, then seal them in a ziplock sandwich bag. It isn’t a sterile manufacturing line, but it’s clean and I’m comfortable that I’m not unwittingly transmitting the virus myself.

If you can sew, I find it helpful to stitch and gather about two inches in the center of both the top and bottom of the mask, where it will be positioned over the chin and nose. This helps to form a better seal so that more breath is taken through the mask rather than from around it. That’s optional of course, but the stitching does protect the wearer of the mask a little further.

This is what the mask looks like when you gather up the towel a bit at the nose and the chin.

Masks made of blue shop towels will last multiple wearings. In fact, my daughter and I each have a stash of several masks and rotate them from day to day. To this point not one has fallen apart. I did try washing one, just to see what would happen. It didn’t fall apart, but it didn’t look very happy either after the experience. I threw that one out. Since the masks are so inexpensive, I suppose you could dispose of them after each wearing. But I’m not entirely confident we have an endless supply of blue shop towels in this country.

I’ve also found that you can use this same method outline in this post to make a mask out of a paper towel. That is a less sturdy mask with less filtering properties. But it would work in a pinch.

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