Face masks and coronavirus in Australia | What you need to know now

Should I wear a face mask and where can I get one?

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The current advice from the World Health Organisation (updated 1 December 2020) is that masks should be worn in public where the virus is circulating when social distancing is not possible or when room ventilation is poor/unknown to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

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Where to find masks fast and the latest rules in your state

Quickly compare face masks by type

Mask typeReusableDisposableFilters air?Readily available?
P2 masks
  • No
  • Yes
  • Yes
N95 masks
  • No
  • Yes
  • Yes
KN95 masks
  • No
  • Yes
  • Yes
Cloth masks
  • Yes
  • No
  • No
Surgical mask
  • No
  • Yes
  • No

Learn more about the different types of face masks available.

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Australian Mask Specialist

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Why you should wear a mask

Masks are a barrier which prevent droplets from when you breathe or sneeze or cough from reaching others and there are many studies which demonstrate the wearing of masks reduces the spray of droplets from you when worn over the nose and mouth.

Masks are one part of several public health strategies to reduce the risk of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Other public health strategies include hand washing, physical distancing (avoiding hand shaking and other close contact), ensuring enclosed spaces are well ventilated, sneezing and coughing into your elbow.

Mask regulations are set by the State or Federal government in Australia and are usually in response to an increase in SARS-CoV-2 circulation and thus an increased risk of virus transmission.

The World Health Organization recommends medical mask use:

  • for health care workers in clinical settings (thus at higher risk of coming into contact with an infected person)
  • People over 60 years of age
  • People with underlying chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease
  • Those who are sick and have any of the following symptoms even if only very mild.
    • Any age or sex
    • Fever/ night sweats or chills
    • Flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, fatigue, headache, runny nose/congestion.
    • Shortness of breath, chest pain/pressure
    • Loss of sense of smell and or taste
    • Muscle or joint pain
    • Vomiting and or diarrhoea
    • Loss of appetite

Non-medical (fabric masks) can be used by the general public, those under 60 years and those without underlying illness.

The USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) additionally suggest that masks should be worn when travelling by plane, or other forms of Public Transport. Additionally, their advice is to wear a face mask whenever you are close to anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 infection as outlined above, even when at home or inside.

How to make your own face mask

If P2 or N95 masks are hard to find or out of stock online, consider sewing your own. Guides like this one from The New York Times outline the steps that can have you wearing a cloth mask in an hour or two. If you have a small swatch of fabric about the size of a napkin, shoelaces, scissors, and a needle and thread, you can make a mask without additional supplies.

Types of face masks: What's the difference?

There's various types of masks on the market and the best face mask for your needs could vary depending on a variety of factors, like your age, whether you're a medical worker or already sick.

Australian made cloth mask

Cloth masks

Cloth masks prevent large droplets released by the wearer from reaching the environment. They do not filter bacteria or viruses. Cloth masks minimise the risk of transmission by people who don't have symptoms through talking, coughing or sneezing.

  • Who should use a cloth mask (and who shouldn't): Consider a cloth mask if you're not showing any symptoms and are trying to protect yourself and others from catching the virus. It's not recommended by the WHO as a replacement of a medical mask.
  • Is it reusable? Yes
  • Is it disposable? No
  • Does it filter air? No

Shop for cloth masks


Picture not described

Surgical masks/disposable masks

Large droplets released by the individual wearing the mask do not reach the environment. Large droplets and splashes, which contain bacteria or viruses, are also prevented from reaching the wearer. Surgical masks are able to filter 95% of bacteria.

  • Who should use a surgical mask (and who shouldn't): The WHO recommends medical masks to be worn by health care workers, those who are sick and those who are caring for others who are sick. It's also recommended if you live in an area where coronavirus is widespread and you're at-risk or older than 60.
  • Is it reusable? No
  • Is it disposable? Yes
  • Does it filter air? No

Shop for surgical masks


Picture not described

P2 masks and N95 respirators

They block out both large and small droplets from reaching your mouth and nose. N95 masks also filter out 95% of particles (including particles as small as 0.3 microns). N95 masks are tight fitting and are ideal for healthcare professionals as they can be fitted properly. These masks shouldn't be used for extended periods.

  • Who should use an N95 or P2 mask (and who shouldn't): The Australian Department of Health recommends P2/N95 masks, rather than a surgical mask, for those who are in regular close contact with patients who are suspected to have, or have already tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Is it reusable? No
  • Is it disposable? Yes
  • Does it filter air? Yes

Shop for P2 and N95 masks


Picture not described

KN95 masks

These masks filter 95% of bacteria and are the Chinese standard for the N95 mask. They can block out both small and large droplets, filter air particles and help stop the spread of the virus.

  • Who should use an N95 or P2 mask (and who shouldn't): While the Australian government doesn't note the use of KN95 masks, they offer a similar performance standard to the P2 mask which is recommended for those in close contact with those who tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Is it reusable? No
  • Is it disposable? Yes
  • Does it filter air? Yes

Shop for KN95 masks


Picture not described

DS2 and DL2 masks

These are Japanese standard masks for protection against dust. They can filter 95% of airborne particles. They offer the same level of protection as P2 masks.

  • Who should use an N95 or P2 mask (and who shouldn't):Similar to KN95 masks, DS2 and DL2 masks are similar to the P2 mask which is recommended to be worn for those caring for patients who have tested positive to coronavirus.
  • Is it reusable? No
  • Is it disposable? Yes
  • Does it filter air? Yes

Shop for DS2 and DL2 masks

What's the difference between a surgical mask and an N95 mask?

Surgical masks and N95/P2 masks are some of the most popular options for people to buy as PPE.

We've compared the two for fit, the blocking of particles and protection.

Compare N95 respirator masks to surgical masks

Learn more about mask performance specifications

Depending on your location, different face mask types are more widely used. For example, in the United States and Canada, N95 are common; in Australia and New Zealand, you'll see P2 masks more often; in China, KN95 is the standard. Mask manufacturer 3M, which specialises in filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) masks, offers the following explanation of the main differences between each mask type.

Certification/ClassN95 FFP2 KN95 P2 Korea 1st Class DS
Filter performance ≥ 95%≥ 95%≥ 95%≥ 94%≥ 94%≥ 95%
Test agentNaClNaCl and paraffin oilNaClNaClNaCl and paraffin oilNaCl
Flow rate85 L/min95 L/min85 L/min95 L/min95 L/min85 L/min
Total inward leakage (TIL) N/A≤ 8% leakage ≤ 8% leakage ≤ 8% leakage ≤ 8% leakage Inward Leakage measured and included in User Instructions
Inhalation resistance ≤ 343 Pa≤ 70 Pa (at 30L/min)≤ 240 Pa (at 95 L/min)≤ 500 Pa (clogging)≤ 350 Pa≤ 70 Pa (at 30L/min)≤ 240 Pa (at 95L/min)≤ 70 Pa (at 30L/min)≤ 240 Pa (at 95L/min)≤ 70 Pa (w/valve)≤ 50 Pa (no valve)
Flow rate85L/minVaried – seeabove85L/minVaried – seeaboveVaried – seeabove40L/min
Exhalation resistance ≤ 245 Pa≤ 300 Pa≤ 250 Pa≤ 120 Pa≤ 300 Pa≤ 70 Pa (w/valve) ≤ 50 Pa (no valve)
Flow rate85L/min160L/min85L/min85L/min160L/min40L/min
Exhalation valve leakage requirementLeak rate ≤ 30mL/minN/ADepressurization to 0 Pa ≥ 20 secLeak rate ≤ 30mL/minVisual inspection after 300L /min for 30 secDepressurization to 0 Pa ≥ 15sec
Force applied-245 PaN/A-1180 Pa-250 PaN/A-1,470 Pa
CO2 clearance requirementN/A≤ 1%≤ 1%≤ 1%≤ 1%≤ 1%

Source: 3M

Your face mask questions answered

Do I need to wear a face mask?

If there is low community transmission of COVID-19 in the community, the wearing of face masks is entirely voluntary. However, if the transmission (or number of cases of COVID-19) increases in your area/State, then mask wearing mandates will be advised by State Health authorities.

The latest advice on face coverings can be accessed on this page and will be guided largely by current transmission/number of cases and COVID-19 infections in each State or local government area. If your area is currently experiencing COVID-19 cases and transmissions, we advise you to find the most up to date advice at the link above.

Is a face mask effective?

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, when worn in a community setting, a face mask is effective in slowing down the spread of the virus. However, it is not a measure that should be taken instead of social distancing, frequent hand cleaning and other preventive measures put in place. A face mask is most effective when it is used in conjunction with preventive measures. Like a flu vaccine, masks help reduce your chance of spreading the virus, but there is no guarantee that you will be safe.

What face mask should I buy?

If you are a healthcare worker, appropriate masks should be provided by your employer.

Cloth masks are preferable for community use and have several advantages:

  • They can be washed and are reusable.
  • Their use preserves the supply of surgical masks for situations where the risk of infection/transmission is higher (e.g., in health care and aged care settings),
  • Their use reduces non-biodegradable waste and landfill.

Cloth masks should be made of 2-3 layers of different fabrics (e.g., cotton with high thread count or T-shirt material) which are breathable but able to filter/block droplets from passing through. They should fit comfortably around your nose and mouth and not leave gaps between the mask and the face. You should have at least 3-4 cloth masks so that you can use a new mask every day, adequately wash and dry before reuse, remember once the masks get damp from your breath their effectiveness is reduced. So, you need a supply which will allow you to change your mask frequently as required.

Research done by leading experts in Australia concluded that cloth masks may be used to prevent community spread of many respiratory diseases (including influenza and COVID-19) but are not recommended for use by those working in health or aged care or other areas with high risk of transmission. Masks are useful in protecting us against the virus and slowing the spread of the virus, but you may be asked not to buy them (particularly disposable surgical or N95 masks). Surgical and N95 masks are not in abundance. From time to time, particularly if the rates of COVID-19 in your setting are high, there may be a shortage of supply, which means they need to be rationed and given to those who are working on the frontline or showing symptoms of the virus. When there is an increase in the supply of masks, they need to be first made available to those who are at a higher risk and then to the general public. Cloth masks are adequate to protect the public in the community.

How effective are disposable masks?

Disposable masks or surgical masks are not as effective as N95 or P2 masks. However, if you are a healthcare worker, or have flu-like symptoms, you should use one. The best way to use a disposable mask is to not touch your face, nose or eyes while you have the mask on. Don't touch the mask and use the elastic to remove it. Dispose of the mask after one use and wash your hands after disposing of it. Following these precautionary steps can increase the effectiveness of disposable masks.

How long can I wear a disposable surgical mask for?

Surgical masks aren't designed to be re-used and should be changed regularly. These masks can easily be contaminated and it's recommended to avoid touching the mask while you're wearing it or removing it to talk to someone and then putting it back on.

The WHO recommends you don't wear a mask that's damp, ripped or been within reach of others.

How often should I buy a new face mask?

It depends on the type you are using. If you're using a cloth face mask, you should wash it after every use. However, if you are using a disposable mask, it should be disposed of straight after each use.

Some re-usable face masks are only suitable for wearing a designated number of times before they're no longer effective, so if you do purchase a reusable face mask, make sure you check to see how many times you can wash it and still be protected before you need to purchase a new mask.

Will a cloth face mask keep me from getting sick?

An Australian study from 2008 found that when worn correctly (closely fitting the face and covering the nose and mouth) masks were more than 80% effective in protection against clinical influenza-like illness. Face masks can slow the spread of airborne viruses and have been proven to protect people from splashes and droplets however, because they usually do not provide a tight seal around your face tiny, droplets can still pass through those gaps, as such the air you inhale, and exhale is largely unfiltered.

There are masks (N95 respirators) which when properly fitted can filter up to 95% of airborne particles, but these masks are heavy duty, form fitted to the face, but uncomfortable and difficult to wear for long periods and need regular maintenance and cleaning to ensure optimal performance.

While not all masks provide the same level of protectiveness, covering your mouth and nose can help prevent moisture from breathing and coughing from traveling too far in the air.

In addition to being much cheaper and more readily available than industry-standard masks, homemade and cloth masks can serve as a constant reminder to avoid touching your face in accordance with governmental and medical advisories.

If you can find a quality mask at an affordable price, it is always the better option. However, if you cannot find any in stock or cannot afford to pay inflated prices, a homemade version could be a good alternative.

Can wearing a face mask reduce your risk of infection? Will a mask protect me from COVID-19?

Masks are not 100% effective in preventing you from getting infected because your eyes are another way that respiratory droplets can enter your body and infect you. Masks are a barrier which prevent droplets from when you breathe or sneeze or cough from reaching others and there are many studies which demonstrate the wearing of masks reduces the spray of droplets from you when worn over the nose and mouth. So, if everyone is wearing a mask, then protection from exposure to respiratory droplets is increased.

Masks are only one aspect of public health strategies to reduce the risk of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (and other respiratory viruses). Frequent hand washing, physical distancing (avoiding hand shaking and other close contact), ensuring enclosed spaces are well ventilated, sneezing and coughing into your elbow, will also reduce the risk of catching COVID-19.

Health tips for wearing face masks

The WHO and Department of Health have various tips for wearing face masks. These include the following:

  • Wear a face mask if you are sick.
  • Wear a mask if you are taking care of someone who has the virus or is demonstrating virus-like symptoms.
  • Do not allow the mask to hang around under your neck or under your nose
  • Wear a mask if you are a frontline worker.
  • Wash your hands before and after wearing a mask.
  • Disposable masks should be disposed of in closed bins after every use.
  • Do not keep touching the mask; if you touch it, wash, or sanitise your hands straight after
  • Do not share masks.
  • How to fit your mask properly
  • When putting a mask, a tight seal should be created against your nose and mouth. Use the instructions provided with your mask for correct fit. You should test that a seal has been created by exhaling heavily. Air should not escape through any cracks. If a seal has not been created, re-fit and test again.

How to put your mask on

First, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly (at least 20 seconds with soap/water or alcohol-based sanitiser)

Slip the elastics over your ears, and make sure the front of the mask covers your nose and mouth and sits below your chin.

Squeeze the flexible band (if there is one to fit the bridge of your nose, otherwise just pinch the mask to shape it over the bridge of your nose. Make sure the mask sits snuggly over your face with as few gaps between the mask and your face as possible.

Try as much as possible not to touch the mask while you are wearing it and if it needs readjusting try as much as possible to only touch the sides of your mask. (Wash your hands as above, after your make any readjustments or touch the mask).

Replace your mask immediately if it gets wet.

How to remove your mask properly

When you are ready to remove your mask, do not touch the front of the mask – it could be contaminated. Instead, remove it by using the ties around the ears or by pulling the bottom strap over the back of your head, followed by the top strap. Discard the mask and then wash your hands.

If masks are useful in protecting us against the virus, why are we being told to not buy them?

Like washing your hands properly and practising social distancing, masks can slow the spread of COVID-19. However, they are not in abundance. Currently, there is a shortage of masks in supply, which means they need to be rationed and given to those who are working on the frontline or showing symptoms of the virus. When there is an increase in the supply of masks, they need to be first made available to those who are at a higher risk and then to the general public.

Should I share a mask with my family?

No. You should not share your mask with anyone. Even if it is your partner or child and you live in the same household, this is something you should not do. As the virus is spreading so rapidly, extra measures need to be taken and good hygiene practices need to be adopted. Sharing a mask will reduce the effectiveness of this preventative measure.

Are there exceptions to wearing a mask?

Generally, infants under 2 years of age should not wear a mask as they are a choking and suffocation risk.

Children under 12 years of age are usually exempted from mask wearing mandates, but they should be encouraged to wear one if practicable.

If it is important for your mouth to be seen (e.g., for lip reading) and for clear communication (especially with people who may have a hearing impairment) you may be exempt from wearing a mask.

If wearing a mask is likely to cause harm psychologically (due to past trauma) or physiologically (such as a medical, mental health or skin condition that would worsen if a mask were worn)

If you are eating/drinking or taking medication you do not need to wear a mask while you are undertaking those activities.

If you are undertaking strenuous exercise such as jogging, running, cycling you do not need to wear a mask while you are undertaking those activities. If you are walking you should wear a mask (even if power walking – you should always have a mask on you during exercising, so that it can be worn when the level of exertion reduces)

NOTE: "If you do not have a medical condition or disability that affects your ability to wear a face mask and are refused entry or service by a shop owner, you are unlikely to meet the requirements of the lawful exception to public health orders – and the refusal of entry or service is unlikely to be discrimination"


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