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Woman wearing face mask
Photograph: Denis Jung-Xi/Unsplash

How to wear a mask correctly – and what you should be avoiding

Masks are now mandatory in most indoor public settings in Sydney. Here's how to make sure you're putting yours on and taking it off safely

By Maxim Boon

NSW mask mandates now require mask use in almost all public indoor settings in Sydney, unless you are eating and drinking. But while it may be nearly second nature to pop on a mask at this point, there's actually some careful technique to ensuring you're covering your face in a safe way. 

What mask is best?

According to the World Health Organisation, all face coverings can be useful to certain degrees, depending on the situation you’re in. For general use in situations that are low risk – when you’re outdoors, able to physically distance yourself and observe good hand hygiene – simple cloth masks are effective. Even a bandana or other simple fabric face covering can be somewhat helpful if you’re unable to access anything more sophisticated.

You can increase the protection of a cloth mask by adding a simple filter capable of catching aerosol-sized particles. The best filter material is a HEPA filter, but if you can’t access this specialist material, adding more layers of tightly-woven fabric, layers of kitchen roll or a coffee filter can also improve your protection. However it is important that you are able to breathe comfortably while wearing your mask, so be sure to test this if you are modifying a cloth mask yourself.

P2 masks, also sometimes called N95 masks, are another good general purpose option as they are able to filter out very fine particles. Disposable varieties are also very widely available at hardware stores. However, some masks with filter valves are not recommended, such as those with an exhalation valve, as they do not filter exhaled air. This means that they only protect you but not others should you become infected.

The WHO recommends that surgical-grade masks be worn by people who have been diagnosed as having the virus while they are infectious and in isolation, their caregivers, the elderly, or people with an underlying condition that might make them vulnerable to infection.

How do I put on a mask?

It’s a simple question with a surprisingly complicated answer. The WHO guidelines are as follows.

Before handling your clean mask, thoroughly wash or sanitise your hands.
Inspect your mask for any damage or holes.
Once you’ve put on your mask, ensure that it is flush with your face, leaving no gaps, and that it covers your mouth, nose and chin.
When you are out in public, avoid touching or adjusting your mask as much as possible – your hands can still transmit the virus to your face.

Do not:
Put on a mask that is damaged.
Wear a mask that is wet, soiled or has been worn by another person.
Wear a mask that is loose or ill-fitting.
Wear your mask under your nose.
Wear a mask that makes it difficult to breathe.

How do I take a mask off?

Again, this may be more complicated than you think. The WHO guidelines are as follows.

Before removing your mask, sanitise your hands.
Remove the mask by the straps, ensuring your hands do not make contact with your face.
Pull the mask away from your face, without dragging it down your face.
If you’re out and about, carry a clean plastic, resealable bag (like a sandwich bag) with you and place your mask in there until you are ready to use it again.
When you’re ready to remove your mask from the bag, sanitise your hands and touch only the straps of the mask.

Do not:
Grab the mask with unwashed hands.
Grab the mask by the fabric.
Remove your mask in a hasty or overly forceful manner.
Put your mask in your bag or in direct contact with your belongings, such as your keys or phone, as this could contaminate these items with the virus.

How do I care for my mask?

If you are using a reusable cloth mask, you should wash your mask in hot, soapy water every day. You should also replace the filter every day, making sure that you thoroughly wash or sanitise your hands after removing and disposing of the old one. Maintaining your mask is important, as it can only be an effective protection for you if it is clean and in top condition.

Good stop-gap solutions

No-sew mask examples
No-sew mask examples
Graphic: Time Out

How to make your own no-sew face masks from everyday items

News City Life

While face masks can be bought from chemists, hardware stores and some additional retailers, it's also pretty easy to make your own version at home. Don't worry if picking up a needle and thread gives you conniptions; thanks to our colleagues over at Time Out Tokyo, we've rounded up four ways to make a mask that require absolutely no sewing at all. 

What you should aim to invest in

Face masks made from different colourful printed fabrics on plain peach orange background
Face masks made from different colourful printed fabrics on plain peach orange background
Photograph: Supplied/Clear Collective

Where to buy face masks in Sydney right now

News City Life

Newly released health guidelines in NSW are advising people in Sydney to wear a mask in public. To be clear, this doesn't mean you need to be wearing a hospital-grade face mask – reusable cloth and filter masks are also acceptable. Here's where you can buy yours.


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