Essential guide: How to wear a face mask safely (with pictures)



Face masks are quickly becoming the new normal. We now find ourselves checking if we have a mask along with phone, keys and wallet before leaving the house.

As healthcare practitioners, wearing a mask is quite common as we are trained to wear face masks safely and effectively. For those who are not trained, wearing a face mask in a non-appropriate way can make the mask ineffective and put the wearer at a greater risk of catching the Covid-19 virus.


The point of wearing a face mask is to create a protective barrier that prevents a healthy person from inhaling droplets that carry the Covid-19 virus. The mask also stops a carrier from projecting infecting droplets when speaking or coughing. So, for the barrier to work, a face mask must be put on safely and effectively.

In this article, we provide simple instructions for how to wear and remove both surgical and fabric masks. These are the same instructions, followed by healthcare workers and approved by the World Health Organisation.

What’s the difference between surgical and fabric face masks?

Surgical masks, sometimes called medical masks, are regulated products that are

designed to protect against air borne droplets, splashes or sprays of bodily fluids.

Medical masks are usually single-use only (unless specified otherwise by the manufacturer), they're not washable and must be discarded safely after use.

Fabric masks, also known as cloth or non-medical masks, are not regulated products and their effectiveness hasn’t been tested. They are thought to be effective by reducing the spread of the wearer's droplets but not effective in stopping the wearer from inhaling droplets. These can be washed and reused, unlike medical masks.

There are recommended guidelines to ensure fabric masks provide optimal protection:

  • Fabric masks should have a minimum of 3 layers, a mix of water-resistant and water-absorbent fabrics and breathable filters.

  • The mask needs to fit snuggly on the face, covering nose and chin without leaving side gaps.

  • Fabric masks should be washed daily.


How to wear a fabric mask

There is a wide variety of fabric masks that can be handmade or purchased in a store.

They should be ideally made of 3 layers of fabric. The outer layer should be a water-resistant fabric. The inner layer should be water absorbent, and the middle layer acts as a filter.

To put on a fabric mask:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand gel.

  2. Inspect your mask. If it’s damaged or dirty, don’t wear it.

  3. Grab the mask by the ear loops and place it on your face covering your nose, mouth and chin, making sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

  4. Do not touch the front of the mask while wearing it to avoid contamination. If you accidentally do, wash your hands.

How to take off a fabric mask

  1. Before touching the mask, it’s recommended to clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel.

  2. Remove the mask by pulling the loops from behind the ears without touching the front of the mask. It may help to lean forward slightly while doing so.

  3. Rewash your hands after taking off the mask.


Fabric mask maintenance tips

  • Make sure that you have your own mask and don’t share it with anyone. Change the mask daily.

  • If removing the fabric mask at points during the day, store it in a clean zip lock bag to avoid it touching and contaminating other belongings.

  • Wash your fabric mask with soap and water daily, preferably at high temperature. Ironing on a high temperature is also recommended.

How to wear a medical mask

Medical masks are recommended for healthcare workers, people with Covid-19 symptoms, vulnerable people and their carers.



To put on a medical mask:

  1. Clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel.

  2. Inspect your mask. If it’s damaged or soiled or has been previously worn don’t wear it.

  3. Verify which side is the top. This is usually where the metal nose strip is.

  4. Identify the inside of the mask. This is usually the white side.

  5. Grab the mask by the ear loops and place it on your face covering your nose, mouth and chin, making sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

  6. Pinch the metal nose strip so that it moulds to the shape of your nose. If you have formed an appropriate seal around your nose, your glasses will not steam up.

  7. Do not touch the mask while wearing it to avoid contamination. If you accidentally do, wash your hands.

How to take off a medical mask

  1. Before touching the mask, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel.

  2. As you remove the mask, lean forward slightly and remove the loops from behind the ears without touching the front of the mask.

  3. Medical masks are usually designed for single use only. Discard the mask immediately, preferably in a closed bin.

  4. Rewash your hands after taking off the mask.

Finally, please keep in mind that wearing a mask alone cannot protect you from Covid-19. It must be combined with other protective measures, including maintaining social distancing and washing your hands frequently – as recommended by the government and health authorities.

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