The proper way to put on, wear, remove, and tolerate your face masks
UPDATE (Nov 2020): A lot of changes and new knowledge have come to light since this blog was written. Some of this content is still accurate, but some of it may have become obsolete. Please read the more recent mask-related blogs for up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and mask-related issues.
Most of the world now agrees that face masks are a Good Thing, but like many good things, they can do more harm than good if used the wrong way.
Masks aren’t magic talismans that automatically protect people who wear them; they’re a tool for a particular job. And like all important life tools (hand sanitizer, hand weights, hand blenders, condoms, etc.), you need to learn to use them properly if you want them to do their job.
I’ve seen all the mistakes mentioned below more times than I can count, where people end up turning masks into actual health hazards. So here is a succinct summary of how to safely use face masks to protect yourself and others.
NOTE: I’ve written a slew of blogs concerning face masks in the last couple of months (covering assorted mask styles, fitting different faces, cultural attitudes toward mask wearing, even Harry Potter-inspired masks), so I won’t repeat huge tracts of the same info here. If you want more detailed discussion, you can read those, and/or the FAQs on the website.
Pick the right fit for your face shape.
If your masks doesn’t fit you correctly, you’ll be touching and adjusting it constantly. That’s the biggest safety no-no! Also, big gaps severely reduce a mask’s effectiveness. If you’re not sure what constitutes “right fit,” get details here. Just know that as with shirts and shoes, one size does NOT fit all.
For instance, you do NOT want your mask to fit like this:
Some people (like Kitty) love contoured masks and others (like Felix) can’t stand them. On the other hand, Kitty thinks pleated masks are awful and Felix thinks they’re the bee’s knees, which I’m told is a good thing.
Pick the right style for you.
It may be down to your breathing, nose shape, or just personal preference, but make sure you get the one that feels comfortable for you, because you should NEVER be touching or pulling down your mask during wear. If you want to figure out which of the two main mask styles suits you best, you can find out more.
Don’t touch your mask
That’s right, no touchy. Once you’ve been out in public, you should consider the outside of your mask a contaminated surface like any other. If you must adjust the mask, try to do it by the straps or elastic, and do NOT touch the face area. If you absolutely must do it, wash your hands thoroughly before, then again after.
Obviously, this is only doable if your mask is reasonably comfortable and fits well. So keep trying until you find the one for you, and adjust the fit if necessary. Any mask you need to touch a lot is a bad mask (for you, at least). Speaking of which….
Don’t be afraid to alter the fit
Yes, I’m repeating myself, but the biggest problem with face masks is that some people keep touching their faces because the fit is off or uncomfortable in some way. If you can’t more or less forget about the mask for long period of time, look into altering the fit so it feels better for you.
You can lengthen the elastics to reduce tightness or digging-in, or tighten them to help with slippage. Try a different style or fabric if your mask is impeding your breathing, catching on your beard, or clouding up your glasses (some people find that a wire nose-piece like the ones in an accordion mask helps with this).
Put on and take off masks with clean hands only.
Seriously. Wash your hands before putting on your mask, before taking it off, and even after taking it off. Once your mask has been worn, it’s safest to treat it as a contaminated object. If you keep removing and replacing your mask with dirty hands, you’re potentially introducing pathogens to your face, which rather defeats the purpose.
Launder your mask between each and every wearing.
Technically, you should put your mask in the laundry every single time you take it off your face, even if you go through three or four a day. If that’s not feasible, at least remember to only handle the mask with clean hands each time, and put it directly into the washer when you’re done for the day.
It’s perfectly fine to just wash your mask as part of your regular wash and dry cycle. You don’t need to bleach or boil it; in fact, boiling is possibly less effective than just washing with soap and water. Unless you do laundry every day, this means you do need more than one mask for each family member. If you have cold-like symptoms, you may need lots more.
Have a spare mask/s and change it if it gets wet or soiled.
If you do have any cold-like symptoms, or hay fever for that matter, you may be a bit drippy or sneezy. If your mask becomes damp, you should change it for a clean, dry one immediately. I sound like a broken record, but do remember to only do this with freshly washed, clean hands!
Remove your mask by the straps or elastics, not by the fabric part.
It might seem like common sense, but don’t touch the part that goes over your nose or mouth.
Wear masks the right way up.
With contoured masks, “up” is side with the sharper peak in the middle (for going over the bridge of your nose). But honestly, if it feels more comfy upside down, you do you, and no harm done.
With pleated Accordion-style masks, there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way up. The fold of the pleats should always point downward, so they do not create a pocket that potentially collects particles. The following show a mask the wrong way up (and a pair of scissors acting as a large “particle”):
Here’s the same mask right side up:
Consider special masks for special needs.
For example, if you have a largish beard or abrasive stubble, the pleats of an Accordion mask would give you better coverage than a contoured style.
If you wear glasses, a wire nose-piece (which you can form over the bridge of your nose) may create a better seal and prevent your mask from steaming up your lenses.
If you suffer from some kind of breathing disorder, you obviously need to exercise caution with masks, and must keep a close eye on yourself. Anything with a heavy filter is right out for you. You could request an extra-breathable fabric and lining material by emailing us directly; more breathable is NOT the same thing as more permeable to particles! Also, a pleated style that keeps the lining away from your nostrils may work best (you can read more about how this works).
If you have some special need/s that makes it hard to find a masks that works for you, email us, and maybe we can help.
Be extra-careful if you want to put face masks on dependents.
If you want to put a mask on people other than yourself (such as a child or elderly person with advanced dementia), be very sure that they understand how masks work and how to wear them safely. If they can’t be made to understand all of the above points, mask-wearing might not be for them.
And of course, you need to be certain that you can trust them to communicate to you if they run into any kind of breathing or other difficulties, and that they’re old enough and competent enough that choking is not a danger. If you’re in any doubt, always consult a health care professional.
Stay safe and well-informed, and remember that your mask is a service to your community during the apocalypse.