Source: Department Health and Human Services - Victoria State Government

Why should I wear a face mask?

Wearing a face mask helps keep you and others safe. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is spread from close contact with an infected person and can be spread when a person coughs or sneezes.

The best way to protect other people against coronavirus (COVID-19) is keeping 1.5 metres apart, wash your hands often, and cough or sneeze into your elbow or tissue. Face masks add an additional protective physical barrier to protect you and your loved ones. 

When should I wear a face mask?

You should wear a face mask when visiting busy areas like shopping centres or markets, traveling on public transport or in any areas where it would be difficult to keep 1.5 metres apart from other people.

What are the different types of face masks and which one should I use?

The term ‘face mask’ includes cloth masks and single-use face masks (commonly called surgical masks). Both masks are suitable for use to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Cloth masks are any nose and mouth covering made of washable fabric. We recommend a cloth mask made of three layers of a mix of breathable fabrics to ensure adequate protection. It does not need to be surgical quality to be effective.

Surgical masks are made with a non-woven meltblown polypropylene layer and available in various levels of protection. These are single use masks only so can’t be washed and used again.

There are other types of masks and respirators (such as P2 or N95). These are not recommended for use in the community and not advised to be used outside of healthcare or specific industries under health advice.

Are face masks effective for protecting against coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission?

Face masks have been recommended around the world for use by the community to reduce transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Your best protection is still to keep 1.5 metres apart from other people, to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, and cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.

Face masks are helpful in containing droplets when people cough, reducing the likelihood of spreading the virus. For the community, both cloth masks and surgical masks are effective in reducing the transmission of COVID-19.

Where can I get a face mask?

You can purchase cloth masks or surgical masks from retail outlets including chemists, hardware stores and other shops or you can follow our directions to make your own cloth mask.

How can I make a cloth mask?

Use our guide to make a cloth mask (PDF) that covers your nose and mouth and is made of washable fabric.

Tegar, Nancy and Amy from The Social Studio have produced a video to show the easy steps to make one yourself.

How do I wear a mask correctly?

Cloth mask

A cloth mask should fit securely around the face, specifically covering the nose and the mouth areas. The mask should fit snugly on your face and be secured by ties at the back of your head or ear loops. If you are using a mask with ear loops, you can use a plastic clip or tie to join the ends together at the back of your head to make sure it fits snugly on your face.

Make sure that your mask does not have holes or a valve. This can result in breathing out the virus if you have coronavirus (COVID-19).

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or use hand sanitiser that is made up of over 60% alcohol before putting it on and after taking it off. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth at all times and store used face masks in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them.

Surgical mask (single use)

  • Before putting on the mask, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or use a hand sanitiser that is made up of over 60% alcohol.
  • Check for defects in the mask, such as tears or broken loops.
  • Position the coloured side of the mask outward.
  • If present, make sure the metallic strip is at the top of the mask and positioned against the bridge of your nose.
  • If the mask has:
    • Ear loops: Hold the mask by both ear loops and place one loop over each ear.
    • Ties: Hold the mask by the upper strings. Tie the upper strings in a secure bow near the crown of your head. Tie the bottom strings securely in a bow near the nape of your neck.
    • Dual elastic bands: Pull the bottom band over your head and position it against the nape of your neck. Pull the top band over your head and position it against the crown of your head
  • Mould the bendable metallic upper strip to the shape of your nose by pinching and pressing down on it with your fingers.
  • Pull the bottom of the mask over your mouth and chin.
  • Be sure the mask fits snugly.
  • Don’t touch the mask once in position.
  • If the mask gets soiled or damp, replace it with a new one.

How do I know my cloth face mask is working?

You know your mask is working to protect you if it is well fitted. If the ties are loose, tighten them to ensure a snug fit. The mask should fit snugly and cover your nose and mouth. Keep an eye on the integrity of the fabric as it may thin over time with repeated washing. If this happens, replace the mask.

Can I wear a scarf or bandana instead?

A scarf or bandana does not offer the same amount of protection as well-fitted face masks. This is due to the type of fabrics they are made from. Properly constructed cloth masks are made from at least three layers of materials, including a water-resistant outer layer.

When is it safe to take my face mask off?

You can remove it outside, once you are away from other people, or in your car on your way home. If it is a cloth mask, don’t forget to bring your cloth mask inside to be cleaned. If you wait to take your cloth mask off until you have returned home, it may be easier to put it directly into the laundry.

What’s the best way to take off a face mask?

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Don’t touch the front of the mask or your face.
  • Carefully remove your mask by grasping the ear loops or untying the ties. For masks with a pair of ties, unfasten the bottom one first, then the top one.
  • If your mask has filters, remove them and throw them away. Fold the mask and put it directly into the laundry or into a disposable or washable bag for laundering. Single use surgical masks should be disposed of responsibly.
  • Clean your hands again.

Can I reuse my face mask?

A cloth mask can be washed and re-used. It is a good idea to have at least two, so you always have a clean one available.

When leaving home, there might be times when you can’t maintain 1.5 metres distance from other people and wear a cloth mask, and times when you can maintain the distance and don’t need to wear a cloth mask. For instance, you might take crowded public transport to and from work, but at work be able to maintain appropriate distancing. Don’t reuse the same cloth mask to go home that you used earlier on the same trip to go to work. Put each used cloth mask into a zip lock bag to be taken home for washing. For each new situation put on a clean cloth mask.

Carry a paper bag or zip lock bag with you to carry clean masks and keep them clean.

Single use masks are for single-use only and should be disposed of responsibly in the rubbish bin.

When should I wash my cloth mask?

A cloth mask should be washed each day after use. However, if during the day your mask is visibly dirty or wet, do not continue wearing your mask; the mask needs to be washed.

Re-using a cloth mask without washing is risky because it can become contaminated or may not be as effective in protecting you. 

How do I wash my cloth mask?

Cloth masks can be washed in the washing machine with other clothes, or hand-washed using soap and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth.

Your cloth mask should be dry before re-using it. You can use the heat setting on your dryer or lay out flat to air dry. If possible, place the cloth mask in direct sunlight. Wash your hands after handling used face masks.

How do I know when it is time to get a new cloth mask?

Each cloth mask will be constructed differently, therefore there is no specific ‘shelf life’ of a cloth mask. However, the following are signs that your cloth mask may no longer be offering you the same level of protection it once was:

  • your cloth mask does not fit snugly on your face (e.g. you can feel your breath coming out of the sides of the mask)
  • your cloth mask keeps falling off or sliding down
  • there are holes in your cloth mask
  • you need to keep adjusting your cloth mask
  • the material has started to wear thin or fray.

Can I remove my face mask to talk with other people?

No, you should keep your face mask on while speaking with other people and maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres. However, it is important to consider people who are deaf or hard of hearing – or those who care for or interact with a person who is hearing impaired – in these situations consider a clear face mask or use written communication, where possible.

Can I wear a face shield instead?

Face shields may be easier to wear for some individuals who have limited ability to wear masks. If face shields are used, ensure they are properly designed to cover the sides of the face and below the chin. Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Disposable face shields should only be worn for single use.

Do children need to wear a face mask?

No, children and people aged under 18 years are not recommended to wear a face mask but individual families can make their own decisions regarding their children. Children under two years should never wear a face mask due to choking and strangulation risks.