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Wearing and Caring for Masks


To help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), health experts recommend that we:

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people who do not live with you (called social distancing or physical distancing).
  • Clean our hands well and often.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when possible.
  • Wear a mask when leaving our homes.
  • Follow local and national health department recommendations.

How Does a Mask Help Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus?

Coronavirus can spread when people breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze. Wearing a mask keeps the virus from reaching others. It also can stop the virus from reaching you. If everyone wears a mask when they're out in public, fewer people will get sick.

Masks do not replace social distancing. Outside your home, stay at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you.

What Type of Mask Should We Wear?

There are many types of masks. For the best protection, experts offer these tips:

  • You can wear reusable cloth masks, disposable masks, or KN95 masks (tent-like masks that have a pocket of air between the fabric and your face).
  • You should avoid face shields, masks with exhalation valves that let air escape, and N95 masks that are intended for health care workers.
  • Whether reusable or disposable, your mask should have two or three layers of fabric.
  • A nose wire can help your mask stay in place. It also can prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask and fogging up glasses.
  • You can wear a gaiter-style mask (tube of fabric that goes around your face and neck) as long as it has two or three layers of fabric.
  • For even better protection, you can wear two masks together — a disposable mask underneath and a cloth mask on top.

Should People Who Are Not Sick Wear a Mask?

People with coronavirus may not have symptoms, but they can still spread the virus. So even people without symptoms should wear a mask.

Who Should Not Wear a Mask?

  • Children under 2 years old should not wear a mask.
  • Someone who is sick and has trouble breathing should not wear a mask.
  • Anyone who can't take a mask off without help (for example, if they're unconscious) should not wear a mask.

What Is the Best Way to Put on a Mask?

  1. Before touching your mask, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Pick up the mask by the strings or ear loops, if it has them. If you have a cloth face covering that does not have strings or ear loops, try to pick it up in an area that will not touch your face.
  3. Adjust the strings, ear loops, or cloth face covering so it fits snugly against your face. There should be no gaps on the side of your face. If there are gaps, you can knot the ear loops and tuck in the extra material to create a closer fit.
  4. The mask should cover your nose and mouth at all times.
  5. Do not pull the mask down to talk, cough, or sneeze.

What Is the Best Way to Remove a Mask?

  1. Before taking off your mask or face covering, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Untie the strings or remove by the ear loops, if your mask has them. If you have a cloth face covering that does not have strings or ear loops, remove the covering by touching a part of it that does not touch the face.
  3. Fold the mask together (with the part that touches the face on the inside) and place in a clean paper bag or into the washing machine.
  4. Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

How Should We Take Care of Reusable Cloth Masks?

  • Wash cloth masks after each wearing or sooner if they look dirty. If the manufacturer gave any special directions, follow them. Use the warmest settings on the washer and dryer that's safe for the material.
  • It's OK to put your mask in the washing machine and dryer with your other laundry.
  • Don't share masks unless they're washed and dried first.
  • Don't store your mask with other people's masks. You can store each mask in its own clean paper bag or hang each one separately on a hook.

How Can I Clean My Mask Without a Washer and Dryer?

If you don't have a washer or dryer, you can hand wash a cloth mask in a bleach solution and let it air dry:

  1. Mix 4 tablespoons (60 cc) of household bleach in 1 quart (1 liter) of room temperature water.
  2. Soak your mask in the bleach solution for 5 minutes.
  3. Rinse well with room temperature water.
  4. Let mask air dry completely (in direct sunlight, if possible).
Date reviewed: March 2021