Do It Yourself Air Filtering Mask

When air is polluted both indoors and out, when people use fragrances and other products with toxic chemicals, when we are made ill and disabled by the pollutants, then we can’t wait for better regulations to take effect, we need to do something to protect our health now.

Sometimes we can buy masks that work for us, especially if we tolerate synthetic materials, but sometimes making our own is the only way. When we make our own, we can use safe-for-us fabrics and even coordinate them to our outfits (if we’re lucky enough to have safe-to-wear outfits).

Some people use scarves as masks. You can sew a pouch on the inside to hold filtering material of your choice. You can find some safe(r) textile sources here if you are looking for new materials, otherwise it’s great to recycle some old clothes!

Here’s a great pattern and instructions for making your own masks
(as seen below).

As you see in her photo, the masks can be made in different sizes and fun fabrics.

In some cases, it’s sufficient to have a few layers of washable fabric for filtering, other times activated carbon may be a better option.

One place you can buy carbon impregnated fabrics is from Daliya at Nirvana Safe Haven ( I have no financial interest (NFI), but have bought a few things from her in the past. Daliya has been providing materials to the MCS community for many years.

Some masks are made to use a replaceable (or refillable) activated carbon chunk filter, but I don’t have a scanner to scan my pattern copy now. I’ll add it when I can.

If you do make such a pouch to insert in your mask, please make sure you use only virgin activated carbon, and without potassium permanganate or potassium iodide added. You can buy small quantities of chunky carbon from Foust in the US.

Due to the serious pollution that manufacturing of our toxic, disposable stuff there causes, we can look to Asia for all kinds of creative mask designs. Here we experience the indoor air pollution that the stuff causes, in addition to harmful fragrance chemicals everywhere. We may as well have some fun when we’re being polluted to death, as these (and other) masks can only offer us a bit of protection, perhaps while we run errands. Ultimately, we need regulations that give us the right to a healthy environment.

Wishing you all safe, clean air to breathe.

NOTE that DIY masks are better than no protection at all, but will only offer minimal  protection. For serious protection, we need respirators with proper filters for whatever pollutants are in the air we need to breathe (and absorb through our skin).

Please see this post from the CDC on NIOSH-approved respirators, which must filter out a minimum of 95% to be approved. Some filter only particulate, others filter oils and gases too. Keep in mind that smoke and many other pollution events have both particulates and toxic gases.


May our air be clean, safe, and healthy to breathe!

Edited to include some links to lightweight masks that can be bought, and instructions for a DIY air purifier.


Some of the lighter types of masks and sources:



I Can Breathe!

Allergy Store



Instructions for a simple, relatively inexpensive air purifier:

If you add some cut-to-size carbon prefilter material (like the stuff from Honeywell) between the fan and the filter, it will remove some VOCs too.

51 responses to “Do It Yourself Air Filtering Mask

  1. It is getting so even those without breathing difficulties benefit from having and using a filtering mask. Thanks for the info!

  2. This is really useful, thank you. I’ve had to sleep a few time with a mask on lately because of woodsmoke. I have so many different types but they’re all too thick or cumbersome for sleeping in.

  3. Ooooh, can you tell me why not to have one with pottassium permanganate/iodide? I know that the permanganate adsorbs smaller VOC’s so can be important for things like formaldahyde – I have an air filter with it in. Is it dangerous to have it too close to your skin?

    • For something directly against our face and noses, it’s best to play it safe.
      One of the potassium additives is a major lung irritant and shouldn’t even be used in residential machines! I can’t find that research anymore, and I forget which one it was.

      These masks are mostly nuisance masks, they are not going to protect us from serious exposures.

      Even the respirators can only do so much. Our eyes and skin also absorb toxic chemicals, so depending on the level of protection we need, we will have to take appropriate measures, if they even exist.

      If we don’t tolerate synthetics, no appropriate measures exist now to make regular environments safe for all of us. That will only happen by regulations and ensuring people have the right to a healthy environment, which only a few countries no not provide (US, Canada, AU, China being among those who do not)

  4. Looks like a good idea for most anyway. My carbon filtered breathing masks are ‘air tight’ so as not to let in any ‘unfiltered’ air, they’re disposable (after several uses (that’s if you dont wear it for a long time in exposures of course). I had’nt even got around to thinking about the ‘recycling aspect’ but I like the idea of ‘making your own’ ♡ I’m only worried about the level of protection I need and if I would be able to make an ‘air tight’ version. I use the 3M 9926 model because that’s what they recommend here in Spain for severe/disabled MCS sufferers. I have troubles breathing if I wear it for too long or try to talk too much and can’t wear it in the heat because the material reacts with the sweat it causes and gives me rashes and outbreaks all oround my nose, mouth and chin ( I try to put some organic cotton between my face and the mask to avoid this ) so maybe if I get some organic material to make a ‘cover’ it may just work : )

    They say we should ‘avoid’ wood fires alltogether but I have one and I find that as long as it’s burning and the ‘pull’ is good I have no problems (unless it smokes of course) but when it’s not in use we ‘seal it off’ because the fumes that come from it make me VERY ill. I always have a window open throughout the night too, especially if the chimneys open. I know I loose a lot of ‘heat’ this way but it’s the only heating wr have and the only way I can live with it. I can’t imagine having to sleep with a mask on, I really hope you can find a solution to your chimney too♡♡♡

    • These are nuisance level masks, but for some of us, all we can use, if we don’t tolerate synthetic materials against our bodies or in the air.

      I forgot to add that sewing in a seam at the top where we can insert a piece of something with wire (such as the ones that many cookie or coffee bags come with) or piece of flexible metal to be able to pinch closer around the top of our noses, can make these a little easier to use -not always needing a hand to hold if the air gets particularly bad…

  5. Pingback: When We HAVE to Wear A Mask to Breathe and Function | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

  6. A reminder that cloth masks are merely better than nothing, especially when we don’t tolerate synthetics against our skin…

    Millions rely on cheap cloth masks that may provide little protection against deadly air pollution

    …”Is it possible to design an affordable mask that provides better protection? Probably. But until that happens, we cannot allow users of these masks to assume they are completely protected from air pollution. A number of these masks provide at least some protection, which is better than nothing. But people should also moderate their exposure by making choices such as whether to smoke, where to live, and whether to travel along traffic-clogged streets, while we work over the longer term to reduce air pollution at the source.”

  7. I can;t find this
    “chunky carbon from Foust “

  8. When I wrote this, it was primarily as a make do for people with MCS/ES who don’t tolerate store-bought masks.

    A lot of people have been looking for ways to protect themselves from forest fires and wood smoke.

    The DIY masks or a wet towel are really not optimal in these situations and shouldn’t be used more than very briefly in an emergency.

  9. Important article:
    Face masks could raise pollution risks
    People can get a false sense of security from flimsy gauze, and linger too long outdoors in toxic air

    “Governments and scientists need to educate the public and health workers about the correct ways to avoid risks from polluted air. Researchers need to establish what protections might be valuable in some circumstances. But the only long-term solution is to clean the air. Until then, the message is the same: stay indoors as much as possible when pollution levels are high.

    Behaviours are also important when advising a population. Face masks of any kind are uncomfortable to wear for a long time2. It can be difficult to breathe in one, especially on a hot day. Carbon dioxide can build up and cause drowsiness3. The mask must be taken on and off to talk, eat and drink. The filter can become wet, altering its performance. People sometimes wear the same one many times to save money; once clogged, masks are worse than useless.

    Staying indoors when pollution levels are high is safest, as long as indoor pollutants such as tobacco smoke are avoided. Outdoors, people should stay away from heavy traffic when walking and exercising. Cyclists should find routes away from busy roads. Drivers should shut car windows. When pollution is high, it is probably better not to cycle, rather than cycle and wear a mask. People who must work outside for long hours, such as construction workers, should be given professional-quality respirators and training.

    And the top priority remains preventing air pollution in the first place.”

  10. Improving indoor air quality during wildfires

    By Jessica Scully,
    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
    Friday, October 25, 2019

  11. More information about the benefits and limitations of masks:

    Face Masks: What Doctors Say About Their Role In Containing Coronavirus

  12. The pollution in Mumbai is much developed due to non toxic air which is the main cause of different types of diseases & deaths.

    • Did you mean to say toxic instead of non toxic?

      I have heard the air quality in so much of India is horrendously polluted. I can’t imagine that in addition to the household pollution we have here.

      I hope that the coronavirus pandemic shuts down some of the polluters in India too, and that business does NOT return to a polluting normal.

      I’ve seen images from China that their air quality has improved a lot as they shut down so much of the manufacturing to slow the spread of serious illness and try to prevent deaths.

  13. If you like how-to videos, there seems to be a ton of new instructions on youtube now.
    My computer is having issues so I can’t watch them now to see if any are better than others, so if you do check them out and find some that stand out for the simplicity and info they cover, please drop the titles and links in a reply to this comment!

  14. Here is a simple step-by-step video tutorial for pleated masks.
    I would personally not sew the twist tie in permanently, but leave a couple of openings at the top to slide them in and out for washing. The enclosure could be sewn on the lower side, but the top where seam where the mask was turned inside out could have one or two 1/4″ openings.

  15. Image of health care workers having bad skin reactions from masks (because most are made of stuff (including modern textiles that haven’t had all the chemicals washed off them, and especially synthetics) that shouldn’t be tight against anyone’s skin for any length of time)

  16. Here’s another tutorial and mask pattern

  17. This is from Kaiser Permanente.

    Making masks to support our nonclinical personnel and guests

    There’s a PDF instruction with pattern and a video tutorial

  18. This is the shortest video for making the simplest mask if you can’t access anything else. All you need is a square scarf and a couple of hair ties (or elastics if you tolerate them) for the ear pieces.

  19. The last video tutorial seems to have disappeared from fb, which is unfortunate because it was the simplest and shortest one I have seen.

    It is essentially the same as this here. They have added new ideas to make earpieces by cutting nylons or socks (elastics are selling out everywhere, or cause allergic reactions and irritation). You could also cut strips from t-shirts.

    I’ll add that face cloths can also be used if you don’t have an appropriate scarf or bandana or need an extra one fast, like when the others are being washed.

  20. These should be good for most people with sensitivities as they are made from 100% organic cotton material, certified to the GOTS organic standard, and have two latex-free adjustable elastic straps (which some people might still have to replace with ties – perhaps by request, they could make some with ties instead of elastic)

    Not for fragrance, but handy people could sew another layer and add more filter material that could help a bit more with frags too.

    Organic Cotton Face Mask (6-PACK)
    $39.00 U$

  21. This guy has the pleated mask sewing down!!!

  22. Another no sew mask tutorial (made from a tshirt)

  23. Updated material effectiveness and breathability information (for people who do not have chemical ‘sensitivities’).

    I would NOT use a shop towel no matter what your current health status is, as they were not designed to be worn against our face and breathed through, they were designed to mop up chemical spills and grungy dirt.

    There are other materials that could cause problems too – like anything with antimicrobial chemicals, please avoid using them to breathe through too!

    Stick to as natural material as you can find, with the least amount of dyes and wash them several times before sewing and using (with fragrance-free detergent and NO fabric softeners or dryer sheets).

  24. If I make a pouch filled with activated carbon for my face mask, do I have to worry about breathing in fine carbon dust? I tried to research this but could not find much on it.

    • Your question is a good one.

      Looks like wp ate my first reply, so I’ll try again.

      Sometimes the carbon can be dusty, in which case I have gently rubbed it in very lightly dampened paper towels or cloth of some sort, before filling the filter pouches with it.

      I also either insert that pouch into another fabric pocket, (I used a strip off an old safe t-shirt) or wrap a piece of fabric around it before inserting it into the mask.

      That provides at least 3 layers of fabric between my face and the carbon, and makes 6 layers plus carbon from front to back of the mask, so it does filter out more things if you can get a good fit.

      I only used a factory made felt type carbon filter once, many years ago, but didn’t tolerate the material (they all seem to be synthetics) even when wrapped in cotton, so I don’t remember if there was any loose dust there or not.

  25. Thank you—that’s helpful!

  26. …”It’s fascinating in two months how much behaviour can change and really turn on a dime,” said Toni Schmader, a social psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

    Schmader agreed that a significant key in changing behaviour of individuals is having them feel like the norms of people around them support that behaviour.

    “Because a lot of times the things that we know are good for us still don’t motivate our own behaviour. Unless we see everyone else doing it.”

    #MCSlife #MASKchallenge #HumanCanaries #MCSawareness #InvisibleDisabilities #EnvironmentalSensitivities #EnvironmentalIllness #EnvironmentalHealth #BoilingFrog
    #MCS #TILT #SBS #EHS #GWS #disability
    #AccessibilityBarriers #accessibility #BeNonToxic
    #FlattenTheMCSCurve #PesticidePoisoning #FlattenTheCurve
    #PhysicalDistancingProfessional #SocialDistancingVeteran
    #PhysicalDistancingClub #SocialDistancing
    #PhysicalDistancing #BeFragranceFree #QuitFragrance #AwarenessMonth2020

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