In the early 1900s, a housewife named Melitta Bentz changed history when she transformed a piece of paper from her son's notebook into the world's first disposable coffee filter. Today, the Melitta company is applying their founder's innovation to a very different problem: the worldwide face mask shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As The New York Times reports, Melitta is uniquely suited to meet demand for personal protective equipment. By coincidence, the distinctive design of its filters is the perfect size and shape to cover the nose, mouth, and chin of an adult face. And while paper coffee filter material isn't especially protective, the material Wolf PVG (which Melitta also owns) uses for its vacuum-cleaner bags is. The vacuum bags are made from nonwoven super thin fiber that's created through a process known as melt-blown extrusion. This material also happens to be the primary component of medical-grade masks.

By feeding its melt-blown fiber into the machine it uses to make its coffee filters, Melitta has been able to transition to mask production faster than other businesses trying to do the same. The company has produced about 10 million masks so far, and it plans to sell and donate them within its home country of Germany.

Melitta's melt-blown fiber face masks may not be available in the U.S., but you can use their coffee filters as a DIY mask in a pinch. Just poke two holes in the sides of the filter and loop hair ties or rubber bands through them before pulling the loops over your ears. This isn't an ideal face mask, as you'll have to throw the filter away after one use, but it's a quick DIY option for when you're in a hurry to get out the door. And if you feel silly wearing a coffee filter on your face, slipping it into a homemade cloth mask also works.

[h/t The New York Times]