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Types of face masks
Face masks must be worn over the mouth and nose and should fit securely around your face to provide protection against infection.
You can use either disposable (single use) face masks or reusable cloth masks.
The best face mask is a single-use surgical mask that you can buy at a chemist or pharmacy.
A disposable mask should be replaced with a new mask if you need to take it off for any reason.
If you are unable to get a surgical mask, any other single-use paper or cloth masks are fine to use. The most effective cloth masks are made up of at least three layers of fabric.
The effectiveness of any face mask depends on consistent and correct use, including covering the nose and mouth adequately.
Taking care of your mask
How often to change your face mask
- Surgical and paper masks should only be used once.
- Do not re-use the same mask to go home that you used on the trip to a location.
- Carry your clean masks in a plastic bag (preferably a zip-lock bag) or paper bag to keep them clean.
- If you choose to use a cloth mask, you can wash and re-use them many times. It is a good idea to have at least two, so you will always have a clean one available.
- Re-using a cloth mask without washing it is risky. It can become contaminated or may not be as effective in protecting you. For each new situation, put on a clean mask.
- Throw away used surgical masks in the bin (don’t forget to cut the ties) or store used cloth masks in a plastic bag until you can wash them. If you have COVID-19, used face masks should be placed in a sealed bag and put into a bin.
Washing a reusable cloth face mask
Cloth masks should be washed after every use.
They can be washed in the washing machine with other clothes, or hand washed using soap and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth.
Dry the cloth mask in the clothes dryer or in fresh air before you re-use it.
Clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser (made up of over 60% alcohol or 70% isopropanol) after handling used face masks.
When to replace a cloth face mask
There is no specific ‘life-span’ of a cloth face mask as each cloth mask are created differently. There are a few tell-tale signs that it is time to replace your cloth face mask as it may no longer be offering the same level of protection.
- your cloth face mask does not fit firmly to your face (e.g. you can feel your breath coming out of the sides of the mask)
- your cloth face mask keeps sliding down
- there are holes
- constant adjustment of your cloth face mask is needed
- the material has started to wear out.
Wearing a face mask properly
For face masks to be effective, they must be worn properly. An incorrectly used face mask can contribute to spread of the virus.
To use face masks safely:
- Keep your masks in a plastic bag (preferably a zip-lock bag) until you need to use them.
- Before putting your mask on, wash your hands all over with soap and water (including your fingertips), rinse and dry well. Alternatively, use alcohol-based hand rub.
- Make sure the mask is the right side out. The coloured side is usually the front and should face away from you, while the white side touches your face.
- Cover your mouth and nose with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Tie in place or hook the elastic loops over your ears. If you are wearing a surgical mask, press the nose wire around your nose.
- When wearing the mask, be careful to only touch the ties or elastic.
- Do not touch the front or inside of your mask. If you do, wash your hands immediately or use alcohol-based hand rub.
- Do not allow your mask to hang around your neck.
- Replace the mask with a new one if it gets damp.
- Do not reuse disposable masks. They are one-use only and are not designed to be reused.
- A scarf or bandana is not considered an appropriate face mask. A face shield does not replace a face mask.
To remove the mask:
- To remove the mask, untie or unhook the loops from your ears and take the mask away from your face being careful not to touch the front or inside of the mask
- If your mask is disposable, put it straight into a rubbish bin or into a plastic bag to store until you get to a rubbish bin. If your mask is cloth and reusable, put it in a plastic bag to store until you can wash it.
- Wash your hands all over with soap and water, rinse and dry well. Alternatively use alcohol-based hand rub.
- If you have COVID-19, used face masks should be placed in a sealed bag and put into a rubbish bin.
For more information visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.
When you can remove your face mask
Read about when you can remove your face mask and exemptions from wearing a mask.
Wearing a face mask when it is not mandatory
The voluntary wearing of face masks offers protection against transmission even when not mandated. This is because masks reduce the possibility of coming into contact with airborne infectious droplets.
You are encouraged to wear a mask as extra protection if you are in a setting where you cannot physically distance, work in a public-facing role, or you are vulnerable to COVID-19.
A range of resources are available to help promote mask wearing requirements. These include posters and social media tiles. View the full range of resources.