With rioting, civil unrest and subsequent government crackdowns becoming more and more frequent all around the country we are naturally seeing the deployment of more chemical agents designed to bust up rioting and hopefully get people to go home and stay there.
Tear gas, pepper spray and other agents are commonly deployed by police and are increasingly available to civilians.
Many preppers choose to stock a gas mask along with filter canisters as part of their survival accoutrement, but what if you should get caught out somewhere without your gas mask and need to defend yourself against less-lethal chemical agents or airborne particulates?
I guess you can clamp a bandana or a t-shirt over your mouth and nose and hope for the best, but this won’t do a single thing to protect your eyes and the rest of your face.
A better solution, if you have time, materials and opportunity is to construct a homemade gas mask.
While these improvised respirators do not compare to the efficiency and certainty of military and police grade models, they are significantly better than just holding a cloth over your mouth.
In today’s article, we have rounded up a selection of four different designs we found on the web and brought them to you so you can add them to your survival tool box!
A DIY Gas Mask? Are You Crazy?!
Not at all! You may find it hard to believe, but homemade gas masks made from on-hand or even scavenged materials can offer significant protection against airborne particles, and even certain proper gases.
At any rate, so long as they are made with a little bit of care and attention to detail they are significantly better than just clamping an old bandana or a wet t-shirt over your mouth and nose.
Aside from their increased effectiveness at filtering contaminants out of the air you’re about to breathe, gas masks keep your hands-free, allowing you to use tools, carry things, help someone else or even use a weapon.
This allows them to be far more versatile and useful than just covering your mouth with cloth.
Now, these homemade gas masks are not foolproof and offer nowhere near the certainty and efficiency of military grade gas masks.
You shouldn’t push your luck and linger in area with a tremendous amount of contamination, or expect them to give you total protection during a bout of extreme exertion where the mask is being jostled and bumped
Consider that even if you have a proper gas mask and filtration canisters you might encounter someone who lacks a mask entirely.
If you can spare a few minutes to help them, there’s a high likelihood you can throw together an improvised gas mask for materials that are in their house or nearby.
Giving someone a modicum of protection against a threat that might incapacitate them or prevent them from escaping is nothing to laugh at.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding and any of these masks designs will work if correctly assembled and tested for fit beforehand, so long as you’re not dealing with a truly dangerous chemical- or biological weapon threat.
What Can I Expect These Masks to Protect Against?
Any gas mask or respirator functions by pulling contaminated air through a filter which then catches the fine particulates that make the air unsafe or irritating to breathe.
Different threats have particulates that are larger or smaller, and it takes correspondingly better quality filters to catch far smaller particulates safely and effectively.
As a for instance, consider smoke from a house fire. Smoke is simply particles of burned material lifted into the air. Most particles comprising smoke are quite large, and can be caught readily even by improvised filters at least for a time.
Common tear gas (CN, CS or CN/CS) that is so profligately deployed by police to break up riots also has larger particle sizes as does OC gas, i.e. pepper spray.
All these homemade gas masks, made correctly are effective at reducing these “gas” particles in the air before you breathe them, and in both cases will protect your face from direct application.
On the other hand, hazardous industrial chemicals, true chemical weapons and biological warfare agents have particle sizes that are extremely small and require advanced filters in a good state of repair if you want to be protected against them.
This is why it is so crucial that any gas mask, but especially high-end military grade gas masks, seal tightly to the face so that no air, not even a trace, can slip between the mask and the wearer’s nose and mouth.
Additionally many can be absorbed straight through any exposed skin, negating a mask’s effectiveness unless worn with a full protective suit.
Lastly, filters don’t last forever, and the more contaminated are that you pull through your filter the faster they will degrade and wear out.
Remind yourself that you are making a filter yourself from commonly scavenged household materials, not with the latest in state-of-the-art manufacturing processes and materials custom-made for the purpose of cleaning air that moves through them.
Don’t demand the sun, the moon and the stars from your homemade gas mask and you will probably be okay.
Homemade Gas Mask Projects You Can Try
1. Standard DIY Gasmask
This gas mask variation has become something of the standard among preppers and those looking to fashion one out of common household materials.
To create it, you’ll need nothing more than a 2-liter soft drink bottle, a common household dust mask, strong duct tape and a really sharp knife.
You will see that this design serves as a sort of template for improved DIY gas masks, so it stands to reason you should learn how to make this one and make it well if you’re going to add this skillset to your prepping repertoire.
The biggest advantage of this gas mask variation is that it is a cinch to make, and requires next to nothing. You’re likely to have all the tools you’ll need either on your body, in your kit or close at hand.
The disadvantages of this particular gas mask are that it does not offer considerable filter life or efficacy in case you’re dealing with seriously contaminated air.
If you are dealing with a nearby riot or some similar situation where chemical agents are flying fast and furious making the air hazy you’ll probably want to spend the time to improve the filter.
On the other hand, it is a simple affair to remove and replace the filter “package” on this version so there’s that.
You can find this improvised project here.
2. Improved DIY Gas Mask
This gas mask represents a significant improvement over the first one. Though it uses much of the same materials and similar construction methods, it is made with more care, a better seal and a remote, dangling filter unit connected to the mask via an articulated aquarium tube.
While it takes significantly more time and care to construct, and you’ll need some additional materials not used in the first one, namely polyester stuffing and activated charcoal along with the articulated tube, it will afford you drastically more protection than the first.
Do keep in mind that for all its efficiency the dangling, snout-like filter assembly is more prone to being snagged, possibly pulling the mask off of your face allowing you to get a lungful of whatever you’re trying to keep out of them.
If I were to suggest an upgrade for this mask design I would recommend adding a second strap to the face mask or upgrading to a sturdier strap entirely.
This is a good option to consider if you need a mask for a longer-term survival scenario but either do not have a proper gas mask or if you lost it due to damage or theft.
With a little ingenuity and extra engineering you can make additional filters that are reasonably easy to swap out while in the field.
This can afford you better range and keep you going longer if you are moving in an extremely contaminated atmosphere.
Check out the steps to making a gas mask on wikihow.
3. Dual Filter DIY Gas Mask
This is it: the Cadillac of DIY gas masks. This dual fixed-filter arrangement affords you the greater protection of the number two option above with the low profile, reduced snag-hazard size of the traditional DIY gas mask in the number one slot.
You need significantly more found materials, a lot more time and far greater attention to detail to pull off this gas mask, but in return you’ll get some of the best hazard protection that will last the longest.
The biggest potential shortcoming I see on this mask is not in its efficacy or in wearing it but rather when it comes time to build it.
A couple of components of this mask, namely the filters, rely on adhesive for attachment and sealing.
The creator in the video is using hot glue, but that is an obvious non-starter if you’re trying to put this thing together during a power outage.
It would be best to have an alternate choice of adhesive on hand that does not require power, perhaps heavy duty silicone caulk or even foaming glue but you could trim back after it cures.
Other than that, the only real quibble is that you’ll have to re-glue replacement filter cartridges to the mask when they start to wear out.
That being said, that is probably a small price to pay for the combination of effectiveness and greater mobility that this gas mask can afford you.
4. Modified Snorkel Mask
For the craftiest users, it is possible to repurpose a full face snorkel mask as the gentleman in the video shows.
While pedantic readers might perhaps throw a flag on this particular set of instructions since it is not truly a DIY product made from scavenged materials, but the spirit of it is done in accordance with the prepping mindset: making do with what you have, adapting something to work or doing without.
I commend this clever creator for his brilliant use of an existing mask to do most of the fabrication work for him.
A mask of this nature has considerable advantages over all the others.
First, it is factory designed and produced so it has a reliable full face seal and sturdy wrap-around harness that ensure only significant jolt or impact will disrupt the seal the mask provides.
Second, as modified by the creator, this is the only DIY gas mask that uses truly quick on, quick off interchangeable homemade filters.
I’m not saying this has the full capabilities of a military gas mask, because it does not, but we are certainly getting the closest here as far as feature-set is concerned
Lastly, this mask will certainly be more durable in the long run compared to all the DIY options above no matter how well-made they are.
If you were going to go out of your way to purchase and then construct this mask as your go-to gas mask option ahead of time, I would sincerely encourage you to purchase a proper gas mask and set of filters instead of doing that.
But, if you were going to set out in the aftermath of a disaster to gather materials for constructing your own gas mask this is likely the one I would choose, since you can get everything you need just by swooping by a pool or dive supply store.
5. Full Face Mask with Remote Air Handler
Now this is a truly sophisticated DIY gas mask, although it is one you’ll need some skill with electronics to assemble yourself.
A close fitting, tightly ceiling wrap around face mask with an over the head hose that connects to a remote air handler and filter arrangement, this mask truly offers best in category performance if you are going for something you can make yourself.
At first glance, it seems over engineered and almost a contest when other, lesser masks might work just as good. But let us consider the environment that you might really need to use such a mask in.
If you aren’t just running through an errant cloud of tear gas, you might need long-lasting protection from airborne hazards…
And, as anyone who has worn a gas mask for any length of time will tell you, they have a tendency to fog up something fierce when you are exerting yourself.
A forced stream of fresh, clean air into the face piece is going to go a long way towards mitigating fogging and condensation build up on your visor.
If you need to stay on watch for other threats, or just be able to see where you are going and reduced light conditions, this will probably be a lifesaver.
Though the complexity might turn off some readers from trying this one, look at it like a challenge.
None of the parts would be particularly difficult to scavenge from most residential, suburban or urban areas.
If you don’t have other survival priorities breathing down your neck it could be well worth the time to put together a mask of this type assuming you cannot find a legitimate gas mask.
I applaud the ingenuity, elegance and effort on this one. Great step-by-step video here:
6. Half Face Respirator
Definitely on the lower end of the protection spectrum, this half face respirator nonetheless has a place in your arsenal.
If you are dealing with severely limited supplies or are only worried about hazards that will not affect your eyes, this might be just the ticket and has a major advantage of being very quick and easy to put together with even the most rudimentary tools.
Not every threat is going to be nerve gas, tear gas, pepper spray or something that can burn up your eyes or get into your body through your eyes.
There are all sorts of nasty things that you want to keep out of your lungs, even for short-term exposure, carcinogenic dust and smoke being chief among them.
But despite being only a half face mask, this one shows some surprising sophistication. It has a large exhaust valve and twin filtration caps that are cleverly made from the necks of common soft drink bottles. That and the whole thing is designed in such a way that it is easy to seal and fit to the wearer’s face.
For quick protection from smoke, dust and other inhalation hazards you can do a lot worse than this mask. Check out the video here:
7. Full Face Mask with Bottom Filter
This is a really cool mask with an even better walkthrough on how to make it. Covering everything from picking out the materials to construction and fitting, this is a full face wrap around mask with a DIY filter attached to the bottom.
You’ll probably notice that most modern gas masks are of this type specifically because they maximize visibility and improve situational awareness, and that’s important no matter what kind of situation you are dealing with.
The bottom located filter generally reduces snag hazards and helps to maintain mobility of the head and neck on the horizontal axis, similarly critical for improving awareness.
This mask also has the advantage of protecting the head and face nearly back to the ears, minimizing the chance that any liquid agents can sneak in under a gap at the edge in case of direct exposure to pepper spray or other eye-melting chemicals.
Make sure you pay close attention to the part where the maker processes the charcoal for the filter and how he assembles it, as it can be an easy thing to mess that part up especially when it comes time to tape it on to the mask itself.
As long as you pay attention and take your time it shouldn’t be any impediment for a seasoned DIY’er.
I give this mask high marks for both performance and simplicity using the minimal amount of material. Learn how to make this maximum visibility mask here:
8. Quick Full Face Mask with Improvised Filter
This video showcases another relatively common design that will look familiar to you at this point on the list. However, this one is notable for being made by a seasoned prepper who knows his stuff when it comes to Urban and suburban survival.
Notice how he puts together the entire mask basically on the roadside, using nothing more than a pair of scissors and his other materials.
More than any other video on this list this one emphasizes the importance of really knowing how to do this stuff. And I mean it do it, not having the knowledge of theoretically how to execute it.
Bear in mind that you might be trying to assemble a mask like this during a time is life crisis when minutes count. It would behoove you to practice!
Another particularly beneficial tidbit is his process for constructing a functional filter for his mask. Remember that the mask is only part of the equation, and it will not do much to protect you if it cannot purify the air that you are breathing. The first time you suck in a big lung full of pepper spray, tear gas or smoke you’ll wish you had paid more attention to this phase of mask construction.
Solid design, a great filter and real world execution on construction. Video on YouTube:
9. Gas Mask with Hood and Improvised Filter
Rounding out our list with a blast from the past but one that is still entirely valuable and workable today. This short pamphlet has a detailed list of materials as well as a diagram for constructing a wraparound gas mask with a bottom filter it looks something like one of the diving helmets of yesteryear.
Compared to the other more “modern” designs it holds up quite well, and even affords pretty decent visibility. Constructed with care, it is more than capable of protecting the user from common airborne threats, including gas.
This just goes to show you that these concepts are nothing new, and have been around for a very long time. Any threat, no matter what it is, can be dealt with using ingenuity, the right materials and determination. Download the instructions at archive.org.
You can expect to run into less-lethal chemical weapons, airborne pollutants and all kinds of aggravating contaminants in nearly any disaster situation you can think of.
The time is definitely right for getting a gas mask, that much is clear, but if you are separated from your gas mask or simply caught without one when you need one it is the smart prepper who will know how to make the improvised masks on this list.
Read over the attached articles, watch the videos, and then decide which one or two will work best for you. And if you feel up to it, you can pair your gas mask with a DIY riot shield, why not!?
DISCLAIMER: Neither survivalsullivan.com, its principals, owners, operators, contractors or employees, or the author of this article, claim any criminal or civil liability resulting from injury, death or legal action resulting from the use or misuse of the information contained in this article. No guarantees are made or implied as to the effectiveness of any equipment, techniques or procedures shown or shared in this article. The reader should hire and consult with a competent atmospheric hazard mitigation instructor as part of their preparations.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.