How to wear a face mask effectively

Top 12 tips to get the most effective protection out of your mask.

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Do: Put your mask on with clean hands

It's easy to become complacent when running out the door. But before you even put on the mask, sanitise or wash your hands for 20 seconds and dry them with a clean towel so that your mask is in a hygienic state when you wear it.

Then, inspect your mask for any dirt, as this could harbour germs and disease, or damage such as holes that can render the mask ineffective.

If your mask is dirty or damaged, throw it away if it's disposable or into the wash if it's reusable and use another mask instead.

Do: Cover your nose, mouth and chin

The purpose of a face mask is to create a barrier of protection against airborne particles entering or exiting through your nose and mouth.

Using a mask that just covers your mouth won't cut it.

Masks should be placed so that they cover both your nose and mouth completely. This is why many feature a nose wire or clip to hold it in place on the bridge of your nose.

"If there is a wire along one side of the mask, this goes on top," Dr Brad McKay told Finder. "Mould the wire to over the bridge of your nose. So many people are wearing their masks upside-down with the wire under the chin, which doesn't create a snug fit," he said.

Your mask should sit right below your eyeline and tuck under your chin.

If you're wearing a medical mask the darker, shinier side should face outward as this is the water-resistant layer.

Do: Wear a mask that closes around your face

Masks should be worn snug against your face and create a seal around your nose and mouth to prevent any particles from entering or leaving.

So having something dangle over your face like a bandit's bandana won't provide as much protection as a mask that tucks behind your cheekbones and under your chin.

This is because contamination can still travel in these loose spaces.

Do: Wash reusable masks after each use

Reusable cloth masks should be washed after every use in hot soapy water or detergent. If hot water isn't available, the World Health Organization says you can wash it with soap or detergent at room temperature and then boil it for a minute.

When clean, hang your mask out to dry in the sun, which is a natural disinfectant.

Once dried, store your mask in a clean airtight bag to prevent any particles or germs from landing on it.

If you're constantly going out, Dr McKay says "it's a good idea to have a few masks and rotate through them".

Do: Handle your mask by holding the loops

Even if your hands are clean you should avoid touching the fabric as much as possible as this is what's coming in contact with your nose and mouth.

If you need to adjust your mask, clean or sanitise your hands before doing so.

When taking your mask off, hold the loops and move the mask away from you. Avoid touching the front of the mask as it could be contaminated.

Don't: Wear a cloth mask during activities where it can become wet

While some masks are designed for high intensity activities, such as filtration masks for cycling and running, plain cloth masks generally are not.

Wearing these while exercising such as running or swimming will cause the material to dampen and make breathing difficult. Wet and damp masks are also less effective in filtering out nasties.

If you're at the pool or in the water at the beach, it's best to maintain physical distancing.

If you're at the gym or running laps around the park, purchase a dedicated sports mask with filters and breathable material. The CDC recommends that anyone unable to purchase an appropriate mask should consider conducting their activity in a highly ventilated space, such as the outdoors, and maintain physical distancing around others.

As a guide, breathable materials include pure cotton, linen and silk. Stifling materials include polyester, rayon, denim and leather.

Don't: Continuously touch your mask

There are two reasons for this. The first is that by moving it around you could allow germs to get in.

The second is that if you're out and about and you haven't properly sanitised your hands before you touch your mask, then you may be transferring any germs onto the mask itself. Or worse, onto your face while you're adjusting your mask.

Don't: Take your mask off in public

In order for a mask to be as effective as possible you must wear it as much as possible. Even if you're alone in a public space unless there's a reason to remove it, for example, to drink or eat, then you should keep it on.

If you must remove your mask, remember to practice physical distancing when you do and put it back on as soon as you can using clean hands and by holding the loops.

Don't: Have a beard or extensive facial hair

Sadly masks and beards don't mix. This is because you can't confidently create a seal around your entire beard with it.

According to the NSW Department of Health people with beards are encouraged to shave to allow the mask to close around their face.

While beards are a "don't", more contained facial hair such as a soul patch and a small moustache can be kept. In short, so long as the mask can create a seal around your face without any obstruction you can keep your fuzz.

The Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) has issued this infographic detailing the facial hairstyles that work best with masks.

Don't: Rewear disposable masks

Disposable masks are built for single-use only and therefore are only effective for a short period of time.

Dr Vyon Sharma told Finder: "They are designed to be used once, for 4 hours maximum, and thrown away… this is why medical grade disposable masks, despite having superior filtration to cloth, aren't practical for daily use."

Of course, if you don't have a large supply of masks on hand then Dr McKay says it's reasonable to rotate them.

Don't: Wear masks made of loosely woven material

Crocheted and mesh masks have been making the rounds online but these are highly ineffective against airborne particles and disease as they don't completely cover your face.

Instead, look for masks with tightly woven material or multiple layers of material. These are still breathable but will filter out any nasties better than masks with holes in them.

Don't: Share your mask with others

Sharing your mask is as bad as breaking physical distancing. Even if it is cleaned between uses it may still harbour nasties that could be transferred between individuals.

It's always best to have your own personal masks that you and you alone use.

For a quick idea of the Dos and Don'ts of wearing masks the World Health Organization has released this infographic:

Infographic on the Dos and Don'ts of Face Mask wearing by WHO.

More face masks guides and news

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