Proper Masking Tips

Illustration of women not feeling well sitting with arms around legs

Protect Your Health

Proper Masking Tips

Masks are most effective when worn consistently and correctly, and when combined with other layers of prevention, such as distancing, washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, and staying home when sick.

Why Is Wearing Masks Important to Help Prevent COVID-19?

Important! Mask recommendation is for people aged 2 years and older. Masks should not be worn by children under the age of 2.

Protect Others

You can pass the virus without knowing it

Many people with COVID-19 have no signs or symptoms and can pass the virus to others without knowing it. When we talk, sneeze, sing, cough, or breathe, tiny droplets and aerosol particles that contain the virus can be carried into the air. Infections occur mainly through exposure to these droplets and particles when a person is in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Droplets can remain in the air

These droplets and particles can sometimes remain in the air for minutes to hours. In closed spaces with poor air flow, there is evidence that people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. Wearing a mask helps stop droplets from going into the air or landing on surfaces.

If you think you may be sick or are sick

If you are sick with COVID-19 or think you may have COVID-19, wear a mask when you need to be around other people or animals, even in your own home.

Protect Yourself

Help reduce breathing in the droplets

Masks help reduce breathing in droplets that contain the virus. Masks with multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts will protect you better than single layers of cloth with lower thread counts. 

When caring for someone who has COVID-19

You should always wear a mask when caring for someone who has COVID-19 to help keep you from getting sick. 

Double mask for extra protection

For better fit and extra protection, you can wear two masks: a disposable mask underneath and a cloth mask on top. You can also wear a cloth mask with a fitter or a brace for a better fit. 

Tips for Selecting Masks

What to look for in a mask.

  • Fits snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Completely covers the nose and mouth
  • Includes two or more layers of fabric
  • Is secured with ties or ear loops
  • Has a nose wire 
  • Blocks light when held up to a bright light source
  • Allows for breathing without restriction
  • Can be washed and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Tips for Wearing Masks

Masks are only one part of the solution.

Masking is most effective when worn consistently and correctly, and when combined with other layers of prevention, such as distancing, washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, and staying home when sick.

Cover your mouth AND nose with your mask.

COVID-19 is spread primarily through droplets and aerosol particles from your nose and mouth. Covering your nose and mouth helps to prevent the spread of the virus to others. It is possible to be infected with COVID-19 if you breathe in the virus through your nose. Do not put the mask around your neck, on your forehead, under or only on your nose, or on your chin.

Use a Mask that Fits Your Face.

People come in all shapes and sizes and that includes our heads and faces. If your mask keeps falling down below your nose, you should look for a smaller mask or make knots in the ear loops so that it fits more snugly. You want to avoid having to keep touching your mask to get it back in place.  Make sure your mask does not have any gaps. If you have trouble finding masks that fit without gaps, you may get a better fit by layering a cloth mask over a disposable mask or by wearing a fitter or brace over your mask.

Children aged 2 and older should wear properly fitting masks

Children should wear masks designed to fit their faces, and their masks should be checked periodically to make sure they still fit properly. Reusable masks may shrink or stretch, and children may not notice if the mask leaves air gaps. It can be hard for children to wear masks because they are not used to it. Getting used to wearing a mask at home for short periods can help children tolerate mask wearing outside the home. Children should not wear a mask that they cannot remove on their own, and should not wear a mask while sleeping.

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) before putting on a mask.

Be aware that if you touch your face or adjust your mask after you have touched other objects, you can easily spread germs to your face. If you do touch your face or mask, you should wash your hands [Español] or use hand sanitizer right away.

Be careful when taking off your mask.

Remove it from behind the ears and try not to touch the front of the mask or your face. Once you remove the mask, you should throw it in the trash (if it’s disposable) right away or put it in the laundry [Español]. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing, and wash your hands right away.

Knot and Tuck Ear Loops.

Another way to have better fit and extra protection when wearing a 3-ply mask is to knot and tuck ear loops where they join the edge of the mask. Fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges.

Watch a video on how to do this:

Double Masking or Wearing a “Double Mask”.

One way to make sure your mask fits better and provides extra protection is to wear two masks [Español]: a disposable mask underneath and a cloth mask on top. A cloth mask can also be worn with a fitter or a brace for a better fit. Do not wear two disposable masks together to create a “double mask”. If you use a KN95 mask, you should also wear it alone and not with other masks. A recent CDC report showed that wearing a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask provided more protection to the person wearing the masks and more protection to others (source control).

It may feel scary or challenging to wear a mask.

For people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, such as anxiety, or other sensory sensitivities, it may feel scary or challenging to wear a mask. Talk with your healthcare provider for advice on how to wear a mask. It may also be helpful to practice wearing a mask at home for short time periods and taking breaks if you feel anxious. Practicing at home first may help you adjust to wearing a mask in public settings. Taking slow, deep breaths may also help reduce anxiety or stress from wearing a mask.

If you are sick, stay home and separate yourself from others in your home.

Wear a mask over your nose and mouth if you must be around other people, even at home. If you need medical care, call ahead and tell them you have or may have COVID-19. For more information, see VDH’s If You’re Sick site.

Tips Based on Type of Mask

What if I don’t have a mask?

Simple steps for making a mask with everyday items from your home can be found here [Español]. Instructions for creating a clear view mask can be found here

Face shields are not a substitute for a mask.

Face shields are primarily used to protect the eyes of the person wearing them and may be used in addition to wearing a mask.

Scarves and other cold weather headwear are not a substitute for a mask.

Items like scarves, ski masks, and balaclavas used for warmth are usually made of loosely knit fabrics that are not suitable for use as masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They can be worn over a mask.


If you choose to wear a gaiter, make sure it has two layers or fold it to make two layers.

If you are using respirator (such as N95 or KN95)

Follow the instructions exactly. When N95 masks are in short supply, these types of masks should be prioritized for medical staff and first responders who are caring for sick people.

If you are using a KN95 mask, make sure it meets CDC requirements

If you are using a KN95 mask, make sure it meets CDC requirements and is not a fake. You should not wear a KN95 mask if it is hard to breathe or if you cannot wear it consistently and correctly. Facial hair that crosses the seal of the respirator may lower the effectiveness of the respirator. Although respirators may be available in smaller sizes, they have not been tested for general use in children.

Respirators must meet standards to confirm their performance. To help the public make informed decisions about other types of masks they might purchase, ASTM International developed a new Barrier Face Covering standard (number F3502-21). ASTM International worked with CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on this standard. Masks that meet the standard passed certain design and performance requirements. Masks are tested for how well they fit, how well they filter large and small air particles and how breathable they are. CDC provides a list of ASTM F3502 compliant products here. If you have questions about a particular mask, contact the manufacturer directly for test reports and other inquiries.

Masks with one-way exhalation valves or vents are not recommended.

Masks with one-way exhalation valves or vents are not recommended. The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets belonging to the person wearing the mask from reaching others. Masks with one-way valves or vents allow exhaled air to go out through holes in the material. This can allow exhaled respiratory droplets to reach others and could spread COVID-19. VDH does not recommend using masks if they have an exhalation valve or vent.

For More Information