Covid-19 reusable mask proposal

REUSABLE Cotton and non-woven fabric mask
DISPOSABLE surgical mask and an N95 (FFP3) protective mask. 

IMPORTANT
This set of five pages on my personal site is not official guidance or medical advice. I have not been a practising doctor for almost 8 years but I have studied some of the evidence and formed opinions which are purely my own. Do your own research and make your own decisions. If you make masks and then supply them to anyone else, add a note about their composition and issue a disclaimer.

April 6, 2020 UPDATE
From now on I will be adding future news updates using the blog here. The guidelines page contains the latest healthcare guidelines together with some relevant news stories. The Types of Mask for Covid-19 page explains how standard masks are designed and made and how this has guided the design of a reusable fabric mask. The Mask Design Advice page explains what features are important in a reusable fabric mask and links to some current makers and their patterns and videos. The Covid-19 Prototype page contains full instructions for our own design with photos.

March 25, 2020. Covid-19 pandemic. Worldwide stocks of protective facemasks are being used up faster than ever in history. They are single-use and must be disposed of. When they run out, healthcare staff may have to turn to lesser options which offer partial protection. If they run out of masks all together then there would be nothing. I know many ICU doctors and nurses. I used to work in an ICU. They deserve better.

I have today proposed to the UK government that clothing manufacturers gear up NOW to make reusable facemasks. I have researched the design and materials and believe that they could be developed and made at a rate sufficient to keep pace with the pandemic because they can be washed and reused.


[The following is an extract from my proposal sent on March 25 to UK NHS Supply Chain and various enterprise and industry groups. As of today April 4 I have had an acknowledgement but no reply from government and NHS but individuals at Scottish Enterprise and the clothing and materials industry are interested in the idea.]

What is the Proposal?

Design considerations – Two types of facemask exist. The simple surgical face mask using paper and water resistant non-woven materials is just a rectangle with pleats and is prone to leakage around the sides. Protective PPE masks and industrial masks to protect against fumes and dust are a rounded shape made of two shaped pieces fused or stitched together. This offers better face fit and would be a better choice. Pending decisions on the best materials, a filter pocket is easily incorporated into the design and would allow additional protection using disposable or reusable filters.

Materials consideration – Must be chosen for pore size, water resistance, comfort and breathability. Woven cotton or polycotton are widely available. Washable reusable non-woven fabrics … could be sourced. Fabric ties and malleable metal nose shaper strips can be improvised.

Feasibility and commercial considerations – Once enough masks are made NHS laundry facilities could handle the small extra workload to wash them. The UK government would need to inject funds, but they are already committed to paying 80% of the manufacturers’ labour costs anyway. The materials cost would be small. Even in the unlikely event that the NHS does not need them, the British general public would probably buy them in the coming months.

Proposal – Bring together medical experts and clothing manufacturers to create a close-fitting reusable protective facemask. … Begin manufacturing and testing. Simultaneously ask air filtration companies to investigate which materials (reusable or disposable) could be utilised for the mask (or inserted filter) to improve protection.

Conclusion – I believe that urgent large-scale production of a well-designed but easily made facemask could be the least-worst solution to the nightmare scenario of doctors and nurses having to care for Covid-19 patients without any protective equipment. We must not let them down.

Author Dr Mike Bell FRCA
docmike@hotmail.co.uk +44 7742 145004

(Retired lead clinician for intensive care in Perth trying to support my colleagues in the frontline against Covid-19).


Disclaimer – It is possible that any product that results from this project will not be officially approved by any regulatory body. There will simply not be time.

Covid-19 Mask guidelines

Mask Design Advice

Covid-19 prototype mask instructions

Types of masks for Covid-19