How to Safely Wear a Cloth Face Mask in Public

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mom and daughter wearing cloth face masks

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now says COVID-19 doesn’t spread easily on surfaces. Instead, the main way people transmit the virus to one another is through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs or even talks. As parts of communities begin to reopen, it’s important to have a cloth face mask ready to wear to help prevent the spread of the disease. Tara McAuliffe, RN, BSN explains all the dos and don’ts of wearing a mask for coronavirus.

Can a Face Mask Prevent Coronavirus?

The CDC recommends you wear a cloth face mask in all public settings to prevent the spread of the virus, especially when social distancing is hard to maintain – like at the grocery store or pharmacy. 

“The cloth face mask is more about protecting the community, rather than protecting the person wearing the mask. It helps people who don’t know they have the virus from transmitting it to others,” McAuliffe says.

Where Can I Find Instructions For a DIY Face Mask?

UnityPoint Health has a great pattern if you have access to a sewing machine. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can use the instructions below to make cloth masks from old t-shirts or bandanas.


Do’s for Wearing a Face Mask

  1. Do wash your hands — a lot. Wash or use hand sanitizer before you pick up the face covering, after you have it on, before you take it off and after you have it off.
  2. Do touch only the ear loops/straps. When putting it on and taking it off, grab only the ear loops or straps.
  3. Do cover both the nose and mouth. Covering your mouth alone does not provide adequate protection.
  4. Do keep practicing physical distancing. You should wear a face mask or covering in public, but still maintain physical distance from others by six feet. Wearing a face mask or covering is not a replacement for physical distancing.
  5. Do wash your mask. Wash your cloth face mask on a regular basis – ideally after every use.

“To wash, use the hot water setting on the washing machine and tumble it dry. It’s OK to wash it with other clothes. Make sure to inspect it after each washing to look for rips or tears at the seams. Also, check the elastic by stretching it to verify there aren’t tears or breaks. If you notice the elastic wearing or tears at the seams, it’s time to toss the mask and get a new one,” McAuliffe says.

Don’ts for Wearing a Face Mask

  1. Don’t touch the mask. While it’s tempting, don’t touch the outside of the mask while it’s on your face.
  2. Don’t put masks on children under 2 or anyone who struggles to breathe. For children, you can consider a hat with a face shield.
  3. Don’t wear a mask that doesn’t fit. Avoid masks with gaping – they should fit snugly, but comfortably against the sides of your face.
  4. Don’t wear a mask incorrectly. It should always cover both your mouth and your nose. Don’t wear it as a headband, an earring, under your chin, as a bracelet or clipped to a piece of clothing.

“Wearing a cloth face mask might feel odd to you. Adding masks to our routine is something completely new to many people. It’s one of the many things that has changed so quickly in the COVID-19 pandemic world we’re living in. However, masks are a great way to protect people and prevent spread. So, find the best way to feel comfortable in the uncomfortable and know that you’re doing it to help others,” McAuliffe says.

For more information on COVID-19, please visit our coronavirus resources page.