Mask wearing advice and resources

Last Updated: 20 Dec 2021 1:26pm

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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.

The best face mask is a single-use surgical mask that you can buy at a chemist or pharmacy.

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. You can use either disposable (single use) face masks or reusable cloth masks. Research shows that wearing multilayer cloth masks can block up to 50-70% of exhaled fine droplets, particles and aerosols. Another study has found that upwards of 80% of particles could be blocked by wearers of cloth masks, with cloth masks in some studies performing on par with surgical masks.

A scarf or bandana is not considered an appropriate face mask.

Acceptable face masks

Acceptable face masks, as defined by Public Health, include face coverings that fit securely around the face and are designed to be worn over the nose and mouth to provide protection against infection. This does not include face shields.

You can use either disposable (single use) face masks or reusable cloth masks. Research shows that wearing multilayer cloth masks can block up to 50-70% of exhaled fine droplets, particles and aerosols

The effectiveness of any face masks depends on consistent and correct use, including covering the nose and mouth adequately. A disposable mask should be replaced with a new mask if you need to take it off for any reason. If you have COVID-19, used face masks should be placed in a sealed bag and put into a bin.

Public Health does not recommend the use of scarves or bandanas as face masks.

Taking care of your mask

How often to change your face mask

  • Surgical and paper masks should only be used once.
  • 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.
  • Don’t re-use the same mask to go home that you used on the trip to a location.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Carry your clean masks in a plastic or paper bag to keep them clean.

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.
  • Don’t 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.

To remove the mask:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. Wash your hands all over with soap and water, rinse and dry well. Alternatively use alcohol-based hand rub.
  4. 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

If you are required to wear a face mask, there are some reasons when you can remove it.

These include when:

  • you are eating, drinking or taking medicine
  • you are communicating with someone who has impaired hearing or who is deaf, and visibility of your mouth is essential for communication
  • wearing the mask would create a risk to your health or safety
  • visibility of your mouth is essential as part of your employment or training
  • you require medical care and this is unable to be provided while you wear a face mask
  • you are requested to remove your face mask by a person in authority, to ascertain or confirm your identity
  • you are required by law to remove your face mask.

You must put a face mask back on as soon as you can after removing it for one of the above reasons.

Exceptions to wearing a face mask where they are mandatory

Masks are not recommended in the following circumstances:

  • For children under 12 years of age who do not feel comfortable wearing a mask
  • For people who have physical or mental health condition or disability that makes wearing a mask unsuitable. Examples include people with obstructed breathing, a serious skin condition on the face, an intellectual disability or people who have experienced trauma
  • When engaging in activity where physical distancing is not possible but wearing a mask is not feasible. Examples include
    • Personal services e.g. beard trimming, facials, make up application
    • Physical exercise e.g. group fitness classes, personal training, playing contact sport
    • Performance e.g. singing in a choir, playing a musical instrument in an orchestra, acting or singing in a play
  • When eating and drinking

Children under 2 years of age should never wear a mask.

Responsibility for providing face masks

The responsibility for having a mask rests with the individual impacted by a mask wearing requirement. Any person attending an event must bring a mask with them. Event organisers must inform patrons prior to the event that masks must be worn, and that the individual is responsible for providing their own mask.

Wearing a face mask when it’s not mandatory

The voluntary wearing of face masks offers protection to individuals against transmission even when not mandated. This is because masks reduce the possibility of coming into contact with airborne infectious droplets. Wearing a mask in any situation where physical distancing is difficult may help reduce your risk.