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What to know about cloth face masks

A pair of hands holding a cloth face mask.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear cloth face masks in public places, especially where it would be hard to stay 6 feet from other people and in areas where the spread of COVID-19 is significant.

To be clear, these are not surgical face masks or N95 respirators. Those kinds of face coverings need to be reserved for healthcare workers.

But you can wear a homemade cloth face mask when you’re out in public. It might help prevent you from spreading the virus to other people.

Studies have shown that a significant portion of people with COVID-19 could spread the virus even if they have no symptoms themselves. If you wear a face mask routinely, there may be less chance you'll spread the virus if you have it.

Cloth face masks are not a substitute for social distancing. You still need to stay at least 6 feet away from other people in public.

Also keep in mind, cloth face masks should not be placed on:

  • Children under age 2.
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing.
  • Anyone who is unable to remove the mask without help.

What to look for in a cloth face mask

You can make your own cloth face masks at home. They should be made out of a material you can clean in a washing machine, like quilting fabric, cotton sheets or T-shirt fabric.

Cloth face coverings should also:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the sides of the face.
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops.
  • Include more than one layer of fabric.
  • Allow for easy breathing.
  • Be able to be washed and dried without changing shape.

You should wash your cloth face mask after each use. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth when taking off your mask. And after you take it off, wash your hands right away.

Don't sew?

Watch this video to see how to make a no-sew mask using just a piece of cloth and two rubber bands.

For more information on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus health topic center.

Reviewed 12/7/2020

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