Non-medical masks and face coverings: About
Want to join the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19?
On this page
- Wear a non-medical mask or face covering to prevent COVID-19 spread
- Proper material, structure and fit
- People at higher-risk of exposure and more severe illness
- Children and masks
- Hearing impairments and clear masks
- Appropriate use and storage
- Safety considerations
- Face shields
- Neck gaiters (neck warmers)
- Masks with exhalation valves
- Stigma and those who can't wear masks
- Environmental considerations
Wear a non-medical mask or face covering to prevent COVID-19 spread
Strong public health actions are needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
To protect yourself and others, wear a non-medical mask or face covering when:
- you're in public and you might come into close contact with others
- you're in shared indoor spaces with people from outside your immediate household
- advised by your local public health authority
Mandatory use of masks or face coverings
Public health officials make recommendations for wearing masks based on a number of factors. These factors include rates of infection and/or transmission in the community. In some jurisdictions, the use of masks is now mandatory in many indoor public spaces and on public transit. Check with your local public health authority on the requirements for your location.
Proper material, structure and fit
Well-designed and well-fitting masks or face coverings can prevent the spread of your infectious respiratory droplets. They may also help protect you from the infectious respiratory droplets of others.
How well a mask or face covering works depends on the materials used, how the mask is made, and most importantly, how well it fits.
A mask or face covering can be homemade or purchased, and should:
- be made of at least 3 layers
- 2 layers should be tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen
- the third (middle) layer should be a filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric
- be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaping
- allow for easy breathing
- fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
- be comfortable and not require frequent adjustments
- be changed as soon as possible if damp or dirty
- maintain its shape after washing and drying
Filters add an extra layer of protection against COVID-19 by trapping small infectious particles. Consider wearing a mask that includes a filter or filter material as one of its layers, such as:
- non-woven polypropylene fabric, which can be found as:
- a craft fabric
- the non-woven fabric that's used to make some reusable shopping bags
- a disposable filter inserted into a pocket on the mask
Reusable masks with a non-woven filter layer should be washed daily, and can be washed multiple times. Disposable filters should be changed daily or as directed by the manufacturer.
People at higher risk of exposure and more severe illness
If you're at higher risk of more severe illness if you get COVID-19 or exposure to COVID-19 because of your work or living situation, you should wear a non-medical mask or face covering that includes a layer of filter fabric or a replaceable filter.
Consider wearing a medical mask if one is available to you.
Medical masks are face coverings that make medical claims of reducing or preventing COVID-19 for the user. They're regulated as Class I medical devices.
Children and masks
Children under the age of 2 should not wear masks or face coverings.
Between the ages of 2 and 5, children may be able to wear a mask if supervised. This will depend on their ability to tolerate it as well as put it on and take it off.
Children older than 5 should wear one in situations or settings where they're recommended.
Hearing impairments and clear masks
If you're hearing impaired, or interact with people who use lip-reading to communicate, consider wearing a clear mask.
If a clear mask isn't available:
- use written communication, closed captioning or decrease background noise as much as possible
- if writing, don't share writing items
- maintain at least a 2-metre distance if you must rely on lip-reading to communicate
- only the person speaking should remove their mask while communicating
Clear masks can also be used in settings where facial expression is an important part of communication.
Appropriate use and storage
Masks and face coverings are only effective if worn properly. Uncovering your nose or mouth while wearing one:
- eliminates any protection it may offer
- allows you to breathe in and exhale potentially infectious respiratory droplets
Don't hang the mask or face covering from your ears or place it under your chin.
It's important to keep your mask or face covering clean when not in use, or when eating or drinking.
Store it in a clean paper or cloth bag until you put it on again.
Soiled masks or face coverings should be placed in a secure, waterproof bag or container until they can be washed in the laundry.
When wearing a non-medical mask or face covering:
- don't use non-medical masks or face coverings that can't be removed quickly and safely if necessary
- don't share non-medical masks or face coverings with others
- don't use non-medical masks or face coverings that impair vision or interfere with tasks
- don't place a non-medical mask or face covering on children under the age of 2
- don't use non-medical masks or face coverings made of non-breathable materials
- don't secure non-medical masks or face coverings with tape or other inappropriate materials
- don't use non-medical masks or face coverings made of materials that easily fall apart, such as tissues
- don't place a non-medical mask or face covering on anyone:
- who's unable to remove it without assistance
- who has trouble breathing
Know the do's and don'ts of non-medical mask and face covering safety (instructions with printable poster).
Face shields do not replace masks or face coverings.
A face shield is used to protect the eyes of the person wearing it. Using a face shield without a mask won't protect:
- you from potentially inhaling infectious respiratory droplets exhaled by others
- others from your infectious respiratory droplets, as they can escape around the face shield
If you're unable to wear a mask or face covering, you may want to wear a face shield. Choose one that extends around the sides of the face and below the chin. You'll still need to:
- maintain physical distancing of 2 metres
- practise good hand hygiene, especially if you touch the face shield
Neck gaiters (neck warmers)
Neck gaiters (also known as neck warmers) aren't recommended because they:
- aren't well secured to the head or ears, and are likely to move or slip out of place
- are difficult to remove without contaminating yourself
If a neck gaiter must be used as a face covering:
- it should be folded to provide at least 3 layers of fabric and should include a filter or filter fabric added between layers
- lift it away from your face, especially when taking it off
- wash your hands or use alcohol based hand sanitizer anytime you need to adjust it, especially when putting it on and taking it off
Masks with exhalation valves
Masks with exhalation valves or vents are not recommended. These masks do not protect others from COVID-19 or limit the spread of the virus. This is because they allow infectious respiratory droplets to spread outside the mask.
Stigma and those who can't wear masks
Some people may not be able to wear a mask or face covering. Be kind rather than making assumptions about those you see without them. For those unable to wear one, singling them out in public can be socially isolating and lead to anxiety.
Masks aren't recommended for:
- people who suffer from illnesses or disabilities that make it difficult to put on or take off a mask
- those who have difficulty breathing
- children under the age of 2
Most disposable and single-use masks are mostly made of plastic. Growing quantities of disposable and single-use masks are being discarded in the regular garbage as there's little to no opportunity for recycling. This increases the amount of:
- unrecycled waste going to landfills
- plastic pollution in the environment or in water sources
By choosing reusable masks and face coverings, you can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while also reducing your environmental impact.
If you must use a disposable mask, always make sure that you dispose of it properly in a garbage container.
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