Coronavirus financial resource center

How to buy or make a face mask, now that the CDC suggests you wear one in public

A New Yorker Calvin Chung is seen with a face mask, as a precaution against the new type of coronavirus (COVID-19), in front of a graffiti wall in New York City, United States on April 5, 2020.
Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially began advising all Americans to wear face masks in public during the coronavirus pandemic to slow the spread.

The government's reasoning: Studies have found that infected people can spread the virus to others before they show symptoms, and asymptomatic carriers may not show symptoms at all. If everyone wears masks, that can help limit transmission and exposure. The guidelines now state, "CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain," like grocery stores and pharmacies.

This is a shift from the CDC's previous guidelines, which only recommended masks for health care workers and for people who were either sick or caring for someone ill. It comes in response to new scientific understandings about how contagious the coronavirus can be, even among people who aren't showing symptoms, and it follows the lead of many Asian countries and the Czech Republic, where widespread or mandatory mask usage seems to have helped to flatten the curve.

Here's what you need to keep in mind when you're either buying or making a face mask.

Cloth masks are all most people need

The CDC recommends that most people wear reusable cloth masks. Professional grade N95 respirators and surgical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers because they have more sustained, direct exposure to the virus.

Studies have found that cloth masks are less effective at filtering out virus particles than professional or medical grade masks. Their efficacy also varies widely depending on factors like the kind of mask, the materials used and layers of fabric, and its fit on the wearer's face. Still, experts say, a cloth mask helps reduce your exposure and other people's exposure to you.

It's also a physical reminder to be cautious.

"The reason to put on a mask is because — and I do this in the hospital — is, you stop touching your face," David Price, a pulmonologist at New York's Weill Cornell Medical Center, said during a recent online seminar.

How to make your own masks cheaply and easily

A DIY mask can be safe, simple, and cost-effective, if you follow directions. Over the past few weeks, video tutorials have popped up online for people who want to make their own masks. Many people have already found that mask-making is a great excuse to break out their sewing machines.

You can also create a mask out of materials like hair ties and an old T-shirt or scarf with no sewing required. The CDC has instructions for two no-sew masks, including one made with a bandanna and a coffee filter. Surgeon General Jerome Adams uploaded a tutorial of his own to YouTube on Friday.

You can put together a single no-sew mask for under $3 using a bandanna and two ponytail holders.

If you already have those materials lying around, or if you already have a pair of scissors and a T-shirt you never wear anymore, making your own mask is essentially free.

Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease expert at Columbia University Medical Center, told NPR that a tight-weave cotton is the best material for a reusable mask, since the virus tends to survive longer on synthetic fabrics. If you want to quickly get a sense of your mask's filtration quality, experts say you can simply hold it up to the light — if you can see the fibers, you should use heavier fabric. According to one preliminary study, tightly woven quilters' cotton may be able to filter out particles more effectively than some surgical masks.

How to buy masks

With masks sold out at many pharmacies and big box stores, getting one from a brick-and-mortar store may be tricky. There are ways to find to masks online, though.

Thousands of reusable masks are available from sellers on Etsy, most for around $10 each. Etsy does stress that masks sold on its platform aren't medical grade and any individual seller that claims otherwise is violating the site's terms

Fashion houses across the world have started producing masks for sale and for essential workers.

Many fashion outlets are also selling to the general public. Menswear brand Buck Mason and chef-wear brand Hedley & Bennett are both donating one mask for every one sold. And T-shirt manufacturer Custom Ink is selling 12-packs of cloth masks for $30.

Disposable surgical masks and reusable cloth masks are available on Amazon as well, although supplies are limited and in many cases estimated delivery dates are in May and June.

How to wear a mask safely

It's important to follow best practices when putting on, wearing, and removing a cloth mask. The CDC says it should "fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face," cover both your nose and mouth, and should be washed regularly. You can pop it in your washing machine, if you have one.

An analysis from British medical journal The Lancet was unable to detect any traces of the virus on treated cloth after two days.

Remember, though, a mask isn't an excuse to let important habits like social distancing and washing your hands fall by the wayside, Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said during a press conference last week. In combination, those smaller measure can help reduce the spread of the virus.

"The scale and scope of what we're facing, I believe, requires or mandates that we take every precaution we can," says Allen.

More from Grow: 

acorns+cnbcacorns cnbc

Join Acorns


About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

All investments involve risk, including loss of principal. The contents presented herein are provided for general investment education and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any specific securities or engage in any particular investment strategy. Acorns is not engaged in rendering any tax, legal, or accounting advice. Please consult with a qualified professional for this type of advice.

Any references to past performance, regarding financial markets or otherwise, do not indicate or guarantee future results. Forward-looking statements, including without limitations investment outcomes and projections, are hypothetical and educational in nature. The results of any hypothetical projections can and may differ from actual investment results had the strategies been deployed in actual securities accounts. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Advisory services offered by Acorns Advisers, LLC (“Acorns Advisers”), an investment adviser registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Brokerage and custody services are provided to clients of Acorns Advisers by Acorns Securities, LLC (“Acorns Securities”), a broker-dealer registered with the SEC and a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”). Acorns Pay, LLC (“Acorns Pay”) manages Acorns’s demand deposit and other banking products in partnership with Lincoln Savings Bank, a bank chartered under the laws of Iowa and member FDIC. Acorns Advisers, Acorns Securities, and Acorns Pay are subsidiaries of Acorns Grow Incorporated (collectively “Acorns”). “Acorns,” the Acorns logo and “Invest the Change” are registered trademarks of Acorns Grow Incorporated. Copyright © 2019 Acorns and/or its affiliates.

NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns Grow Incorporated.