In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to make a face mask filter with vacuum bags to fill and make your homemade face masks even safer.
What a strange time to be alive right? It’s been so amazing to see so many sewists create face masks by the hundreds for friends, family, and strangers. In just the last few weeks, many businesses and states have made it mandatory to wear a face mask whenever you are in public.
While any mask is better than no face mask, some fabrics and filters have been shown to perform better and be more protective than others. This tutorial is going to show you how to make your own face mask filters that are HEPA quality to block small particles.
Because everybody deserves to stay safe!
Just in case you have missed them, I’ve created 3 different face mask tutorials for you guys that you can find below:
- No-Sew Face Mask for kids and adults
- Face Mask / Filter and Nose Wire w/ Pdf Sewing Pattern
- Stretch Face Mask w/ Pdf Sewing Pattern
For today’s tutorial, I’ll be using the Printable Face Mask Sewing Pattern from a few weeks ago. You can find it here.
Part of this face mask sewing pattern is a separate template to make your own face mask filter. While you could make this from another sheet of cotton, a coffee filter, or even a piece of tissue paper, the best material I’ve found has been a HEPA Vacuum Bag.
Vacuum Bags are inexpensive, easy to work with, and effective at protecting you from inhaling small particles that can penetrate fabric masks.
But First, Are Vacuum Bags Safe For Masks?
If we’re being totally honest, when I first started using vacuum bags as face mask filters, I got a lot of criticism. There was a lot of talk about vacuum bags being made from fiberglass and causing you to inhale the harmful particles.
But before I ever created a DIY face mask tutorial, I did hours and hours of research to produce the most useful and practical tutorial possible. In my research, I learned that vacuum bags have never contained fiberglass. I also learned that cloth vacuum bags provide the highest level of protection and are made of polypropylene material, similar to the material being used to help create 5 million face masks for ProjectProtect.health
But knowing that vacuum bags are not dangerous didn’t necessarily make them the best material to create your own face mask filters. After all, we want to make the safest, most effective filters possible right?
So I researched even more.
While there were several sources that said something similar, I think this quote from the New York Times summed it up best:
“Scientists around the country have taken it upon themselves to identify everyday materials that do a better job of filtering microscopic particles. In recent tests, HEPA furnace filters scored well, as did vacuum cleaner bags”
-The New York Times April 2020
So now that we know vacuum bags are both safe and effective to use as face mask filters, let’s make a few shall we? Scroll down to learn how to make face mask filter with vacuum bags.
How To Make A Face Mask Filter with Vacuum Bags
For this tutorial, I used these Vacuum Bags from Amazon. They are inexpensive, ship quickly, and one pack makes nearly a dozen face mask filters.
When it’s time to cut the filter, first you’ll need to open your vacuum bag. I like to trim it across the top so you can open one edge wide, and then cut it open it again at the bottom so you have one solid sheet of fabric. This is going to give you’re most bang for your buck and give you the most usable space to work with.
From here, you’re going to treat it like any other fabric and cut two filter pattern pieces. The only difference when it comes to working with your vacuum bag is when it comes to sewing. While sewing, you’re going to use a wider stitch length because you want the least amount of needle puncture holes in your filter as possible.
Tip: While you’re at it, it might be a good idea to cut a few extra filter pieces since this is the only disposable piece of your DIY face mask. After you’ve worn it a few times, you’ll want to switch out your filter while the rest can be washed in a washing machine.
When it’s time to sew your face mask filter pieces, sew a straight stitch along the front, curved edge at a 5/8″ seam allowance.
When sewing your filter, extend your stitch length to 3.0 or 3.5 and use a smaller needle is you have one on hand. I recommend a Microtex or silk needle to create smaller holes.
In order for your face mask to curve nicely around your face, we’re going to cut small triangular shapes out of the seam allowance on all of your pattern pieces. Use your paper scissors to cut into your filter (making sure you don’t cut into your stitch line) and your fabric scissors to cut into your cotton pieces. These tiny notches help your face mask expand and contract when it’s flipped right side out and make it much more comfortable to wear around your face.
Now it’s time to put your filter in to make sure it fits correctly. Slide it in the top edge and gently work its way into the corners of your mask.
Your filter should fit snug and not float around inside the pocket of your face mask. If you’d like to use this printable face mask pattern, you can get it here.
Ta da! Now you are all set! Your new face mask is equipped with a HEPA filter that will last several wears!
Can You Wash A Face Mask Filter?
In short, no. I don’t recommend washing the filters we’ve made in a regular washing machine. The good news is, you can remove the filter from the pocket of your face mask before washing and replace it afterward. Use your best judgment and replace your HEPA filter after a few wears.
I hope this little tutorial was helpful, cleared up a few misconceptions, and walked you through how to make a face mask filter with vacuum bags step by step.