Non-medical masks: About

This advice is intended for the general public. It outlines who should wear a non-medical mask, in what settings, and how to choose or make the best quality non-medical mask.

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When to wear a mask

When layered with other recommended public health measures, well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a non-medical mask alone won't prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Non-medical masks can help:

While vaccines are having a significant impact on controlling the spread of COVID-19, including variants of concern, the virus continues to circulate.

Masks may be required or recommended in public settings like:

Even if masks aren't required, you can still choose to wear one in shared spaces with people from outside of your immediate household. This applies both indoors or outdoors, and in public or private spaces. Base your decision to wear a mask on:

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Materials, construction and fit

How well a non-medical mask works depends on its materials, construction and how well it fits.

A non-medical mask can be bought or homemade and should:

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Filters

Using a filter as a middle layer in your non-medical mask can help to trap smaller infectious respiratory particles.

You can include a filter in your non-medical mask by:

  • adding one as a middle layer, using a non-woven polypropylene fabric
    • readily available polypropylene fabrics include:
      • craft fabric
      • interfacing material frequently used in sewing
      • the non-woven material used to make some reusable shopping bags
  • inserting a disposable filter into a pocket on the inside of the mask
    • filters can be purchased or you can prepare your own using a:
      • piece of non-woven polypropylene fabric
      • paper kitchen towel that has been folded in half
      • baby wipe that has been rinsed, dried and folded in half

Reusable masks with a non-woven filter layer can be washed multiple times.

Disposable filters should be:

  • changed daily or as directed by the manufacturer
  • removed from the mask before washing

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2-layer masks

When combined with other recommended public health measures, wearing a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask properly that's at least 2-layers can still help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, including a filter as an additional layer is recommended.

  • If your 2-layer mask has a pocket intended for a filter, insert a filter.
  • If your 2-layer mask doesn't have a filter, consider sewing in a pocket for a removable or disposable filter.

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Fit is important

A well-fitting mask should:

  • be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaps
  • fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
  • be comfortable and not require frequent adjustments
  • maintain its shape after washing and drying

If your mask has visible gaps or is loose fitting, you can improve the fit by adjusting:

  • ties or ear loops
  • the wire nosepiece if your mask has one

Consider keeping facial hair and beards shaved or short, if possible. This allows the mask to fit more closely to your face.

Other ways to improve fit could include:

  • tying knots in the ear loops and tucking the sides of the mask so that it lies flat
  • using a mask fitter or brace
    • a mask fitter or brace is a device made of flexible material (such as plastic or silicone) worn over a mask to help provide a snug fit
  • layering a well-fitting non-medical cloth mask over the top of a disposable mask to improve the fit
    • this will help to push the edges of the disposable mask closer to your face
    • make sure that you can still breathe easily when wearing 2 masks

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Proper use

A non-medical mask is most effective when it's worn properly. Uncovering your nose or mouth while wearing a mask:

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you:

It's important to keep your mask clean when not in use, or when eating or drinking.

Do not hang the mask from your ears or place it under your chin. Store it in a clean paper or cloth bag until you put it on again.

Change your mask as soon as possible if it gets damp or dirty. Place soiled reusable non-medical masks in a secure, waterproof bag or container until you can wash them in the laundry.

Properly clean and disinfect any items that improve mask fit, like braces and mask fitters.

Discard disposable masks and filters properly in a garbage container.

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Safety considerations

When wearing a non-medical mask, make sure that it:

  • is made of breathable materials
  • can be removed quickly and safely if necessary
  • keeps your vision clear and doesn't interfere with tasks

Do not:

  • share your mask with others
  • place a mask on anyone:
    • under the age of 2
    • who's unable to remove it without assistance
    • who has significant trouble breathing while wearing the mask
  • secure a mask with tape or other inappropriate materials
  • make a mask out of materials that easily fall apart, like tissues

People at higher risk of exposure or more severe disease or outcomes

Some people are at higher risk of:

If you're at higher risk, it's even more important to:

It's important that you wear your mask properly.

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If you're sick or caring for someone who is sick

If you've been diagnosed with, or have symptoms of COVID-19, you should wear a medical mask when you:

  • have to leave your isolation location (for example, to seek medical attention)
  • are in a shared indoor space by yourself or with others, like a:
    • hallway
    • kitchen
    • washroom
  • are in a shared outdoor space with members of your household, like a:
    • balcony
    • backyard
  • are receiving care (either direct physical contact or close interactions)

Wear a medical mask if you're providing care to someone who has been diagnosed with, or has symptoms of COVID-19.

If a medical mask is recommended but unavailable, wear a non-medical mask that:

  • is well fitting
  • is well constructed
  • includes a filter layer

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Children and masks

Children under the age of 2 should not wear masks.

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. A child's ability to properly use and care for their mask is impacted by factors such as:

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Mask use for people who are hard of hearing

Some non-medical masks have transparent windows. You can use these masks:

If a non-medical mask with a transparent window isn't available:

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Stigma and those who can't wear masks

Some people may not be able to wear a mask. Be kind rather than making assumptions about those you see without them. For those unable to wear a mask, singling them out in public can be socially isolating and lead to anxiety.

Masks aren't recommended for:

Face coverings that aren't recommended

Face shields

Face shields on their own aren't recommended as they do not replace masks. A face shield can be worn in addition to a mask for added eye protection.

Without a mask, a face shield won't help prevent you or others from being exposed to infectious respiratory particles. These particles come from the nose and mouth that can escape around the face shield.

Choose one that extends around the sides of the face and below the chin. You'll still need to:

  • maintain physical distancing
  • practise good hand hygiene, especially if you touch the face shield

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Neck gaiters (neck warmers)

Neck gaiters (also known as neck warmers) aren't recommended because they:

  • are likely to move or slip out of place
  • aren't well secured to the head or ears
  • are difficult to remove without contaminating yourself

If a mask isn't available and you must use a neck gaiter:

  • it should be folded to provide at least 2 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

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Scarves and bandanas

Scarves or bandanas aren't recommended because they:

  • are likely to move or slip out of place
  • aren't well secured to the head or ears
  • don't cover the nose, mouth and chin securely without gaps

If a mask isn't available, and you must use a scarf or bandana:

  • it should be folded to provide at least 2 layers of fabric and should include a filter or filter fabric added between layers
  • it should completely cover the nose and mouth, and fit snugly under the chin
  • wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer anytime you need to adjust it, especially when putting it on and taking it off

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Masks with exhalation valves

Masks with exhalation valves or vents are not recommended. This is because they allow infectious respiratory particles to spread outside the mask. These masks do not protect others from COVID-19 or limit the spread of the virus.

Masks in the workplace

When putting in place mask (medical or non-medical) policies in the workplace, employers should consult:

There may be some non-health care work settings where medical masks may be more appropriate than non-medical masks.

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Environmental considerations

Many 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:

By choosing reusable masks, 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.

Considerations for manufacturers

Non-medical masks aren't considered medical devices under the Medical Devices Regulations, as they don't meet medical mask standards. Face coverings or non-medical masks:

To date, Health Canada hasn't approved any non-medical masks as medical devices.

Well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 from an infected wearer to others. They can help prevent the wearer from being exposed to the infectious respiratory particles of others. How effective non-medical masks are depends on their materials, construction and fit.

Manufacturers can use this advice to construct their non-medical masks. They cannot use it to make claims that non-medical masks are medical devices.

Health Canada does regulate respirators and medical masks as medical devices, which must meet a standard level of performance and quality requirements.

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