Upcycling the disposable

I don’t want to use disposable masks, but I like some of their features.

They have obvious benefits, but also significant drawbacks: They contain plastics. They create so much extra rubbish that has to be dealt with, and people aren’t too careful about how they’re disposing of them. A significant proportion of them constitute hazmat, since they will contain viral matter captured from the air around the not-yet diagnosed Covid-positive, which the poor refuse collectors will be expected to deal with. And they’re an ongoing and constant expense.

I’ve written several times before about making masks. The initial version, the revised, improved version. I’m now onto version 3, and it integrates some of the good features of the disposable mask, without itself being disposable. I bought a pack of 5, and I picked them to pieces. I ended up with 5 nose wires, 5 pairs of elastic ear loops, and 5 pieces of waterproof fabric. What was left was basically paper towel, and I used it as such before it finally hit the bin.

Into my existing fitted masks I have sewn the nose wires for an even tighter fit, and the soft ear loops for more comfort than the ¼ inch strip elastic I’ve used up to now. I will integrate the waterproof fabric pieces into new masks to save having to use Scotchgard® on the outside. The fabric masks, and these components, are washable and thus will stay out of landfill much longer than the disposable masks. At some stage I’d guess the nose wire may start to rust or deteriorate, at which point it’ll be time for another pack of 5 masks to pick apart. And it leaves the surgical masks available for those who really need them.

Win-win, I reckon.

34 thoughts on “Upcycling the disposable

  1. Brilliant idea. The best of all worlds, protecting yourself, others and the environment.

  2. anne54 says:

    We are going to have such a waste problem, with not only masks, but PPE of all types. Masks are mandatory here in Melbourne, and people are being very creative. However there are still a lot of disposable ones being used, and being left as litter. BTW, a friend made a mask from a sock. She says it works really well, but I am not sure how protective it would be.

    • katechiconi says:

      Such dangerous litter too… Someone could make a fortune if they come up with a way to recycle all that stuff into usable PPE once more. I’ve seen the sock mask YouTube video and it’s a clever idea, but probably not terribly protective, considering the expert advice is to have two layers of tightly woven fabric and ideally a waterproof outer layer. Still, anything is better than nothing. I’ll stick to my batiks and Scotchgard or the waterproof layer I picked out of the disposable masks…

    • Emmely says:

      In my opinion a sock will only be slightly better than no mask. It’s not a very thick layer and because it will stretch a bit when you put it over your face the holes in the knitfabric enlarge. I can blow right through one layer of sockfabric so I doubt it will catch much virus. Two or three layers of woven fabric on the other hand are much harder to blow through. I saw one video a while ago where several of these more creative DIY mask options were tested by trying to blow out a candle while the person was wearing them. The sock did not perform well…

      • katechiconi says:

        I thought as much when I first saw the one that went viral. It’s more for the look than for any useful function. To be any good, it would have to be only the inner layer, behind something much more tightly woven and ideally, waterproof. Have you seen the video of what a sneeze, a cough and speaking look like through no mask and with mask? Horrifying!

      • Emmely says:

        I probably haven’t seen the particular video you mention but I’ve seen some simulations in presentations.

  3. What a great idea. I always come here to get the best ideas around. I haven’t thrown away any of my old disposable masks or gloves. I’ve been putting them in the sun for a week and reusing them. But cutting the used ones apart is probably a better option. I’m still using my original box because I’m so not wanting to throw things out. I also do not go out of the house to shop more than twice a month and that’s the same day I run other errands and once a month to my therapist for a good laugh. Now I’ll get busy cutting the old masks apart that have already been used. Thanks for the genius idea.

  4. I am still using the mask they gave me at the denture clinic a few months back. I think I have two so it may be about time to switch. I have a couple of others but they are so tight I can’t wear them. The church has some so I may have to pick up a few there. One thing about making your own is that you can choose the color. Nice job!

  5. tialys says:

    Just as more people seemed to be getting the message about reducing plastic usage we now have all these disposable masks and gloves 😱
    I can’t even bear to think about it. And what about those ignoramuses who don’t even bother throwing theirs away in a bin but just chuck them away wherever they happen to be. I despair.
    You are certainly doing your bit to reduce your impact but I can’t imagine most people going to the trouble. Somebody needs to come up with a washable or at least recyclable solution if mask wearing is going to be with us for a long time and make them just expensive enough that people won’t be so quick to throw them away.
    Rant over but can you tell it’s all starting to get to me? 🙄

    • katechiconi says:

      It’s a fine balance, isn’t it? Make them too expensive and people won’t buy and use them, too cheap and they’re just thrown away. Having said that, if this virus goes on as threatened and we’re facing years of recurrence, I can foresee people with enough money having custom jobs made which can be sanitised, washed or otherwise cleaned. Maybe little doodahs which create a positive-pressurised environment inside the mask to prevent virus-laden air entering. Meanwhile, I’ll carry on snipping my masks to pieces 🙂

  6. you could use aluminium drinks cans e(g coke), cut up for the nose strips; an emery file will take the sharpness off the edges.
    And I just bought the best masks from Chloe of @StitchBabs
    The original pattern is here (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_juAvjkl_Qc4GNSOg8sXoA (I think!)

    • katechiconi says:

      I like that idea, but will probably stick to the wires I retrieved, because we don’t buy aluminium drink cans! I’ve got to the point now where after trial and error I have a mask pattern which is snug to the face on me and another for the Husband and can be worn without immediately steaming up our glasses!

      • tialys says:

        I think you’re using the same pattern as me aren’t you – with the nose wire for your glasses – and I must say I do find it well fitting. On my quick in and out visit to the supermarket this morning, I noticed that everybody wearing what I imagine are the disposable masks, had gaps between the sides of the mask and their faces.I do wonder how much good they can be doing. Also – it just occurred to me that our eyes could surely be letting in droplets too. I’m not going to Google it though otherwise I might get more depressed.

      • katechiconi says:

        The gap is one major reason why I’m sticking to my fitted fabric ones rather than generic pleated or disposable masks. I’m not sure about the eye bit, but I’d have though that you’d inhale a much greater viral burden through the nose and mouth, down into the lungs where there is a direct exchange into the bloodstream. You offer a much smaller surface area on the eyeball, it’s protected by tears which constantly wash away dust and foreign matter, and there’s no direct link to the bloodstream there. In my case, the virus would also have to get past my glasses. I feel reasonably safe!

  7. Joanne S says:

    Bravo! An idea to reuse myself. 🙂

  8. magpiesue says:

    You might want to consider making it an easy task to replace the elastic. We’ve found that’s the part that wears out quickest in the masks Son and I have been wearing for years. Eighth inch elastic is more comfortable too, which it looks like you may have on this version.

    • katechiconi says:

      I’ve attached it with simple zigzag stitch so I just need to run a stitch ripper along the outside and it’s off. It had occurred to me that parts would wear out before the fabric. I suppose I’m hoping the virus will wear out before the fabric does….

  9. Pipe cleaners are also great for a nose bridge and don’t seem to rust. Have been making masks with pockets to put triple layer of very fine cotton in therefore having four layers and no moisture escapes. I cannot use elastic so have been using old tee shirts for ties. Love when I can reuse. Stay safe.

  10. Sharon says:

    Great idea – thanks for the tip

  11. Stepg says:

    Very clever! And reminds me to pass on the scotch-guarding idea to my mum, who is mask-making but not keen on synthetic fabrics for the outer layer.

    • katechiconi says:

      It seems as if everyone has their own preferences for mask pattern, fabric, construction and ‘accessories’. Having said that, I had to send my pattern to three of my sewing group ladies today because they said it looked as if it fitted better than the simple pleated ones they’d made. I suppose if we have to wear them, they might as well be effective.

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