Get the Facts on Masks

Get the Facts on Masks details

Respirators, Surgical Masks, and Non-Medical Masks

Each type of mask is designed for a specific purpose. Respirators are close-fitting and protect against exposure to airborne particles, including viruses. Medical masks are loose-fitting and act as a barrier to droplets and spit (produced by breathing, coughing, etc.). Non-medical masks can help limit the spread of droplets and spit at the source. Regardless of the mask chosen, it should be well-made and worn properly with a snug fit. Even if you are fully vaccinated, it is highly recommended that masks be worn in spaces shared with people from outside your household, especially if the setting is indoors or crowded.

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Know the differences

Link to video: How to Choose a MaskYoutube video from CCOHS

This table outlines the key differences between respirators (including N95), surgical masks, and non-medical masks

Respirators (including N95, 95PFE, KN95, KF94 and FFP2)
Medical Masks (surgical or procedure masks)
Non-Medical Masks
Evaluation, Testing, and Certification Should be approved by Health Canada or certified by the CSA Group or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Should meet an acceptable standard such as ASTM F2100 or EN14683. Not all masks which have the appearance of medical masks meet regulatory standards. Not evaluated or tested to recognized standards in Canada and are not considered medical devices.
Purpose Protect from exposure to airborne particles, including viruses. Function as a barrier to droplets and spit. Help limit the spread of droplets and spit.
Fit (Face Seal) Designed to seal tight to the face of the wearer. Respirator fit testing is required in workplace settings. Are not designed to seal tight against the face. Are not designed to seal tight against the face.
Filtration Respirator filters that collect at least 95% of aerosols (droplets and virus particles) are given a 95 rating. Do not effectively filter small particles from the air but can block liquid droplets which carry the virus. Not designed to filter small particles but can help to reduce the spread of droplets which carry the virus.
Use Limitations Generally single use but repurposing may be appropriate in certain circumstances. Follow manufacturer’s instructions. Wearer must be fit tested to ensure the best seal and protection. Generally single use, but repurposing may be appropriate in certain circumstances. Follow manufacturer’s instructions. Efficacy depends on materials, construction, fit, and use. Can be difficult to breathe through fabric. Wash between uses.
Who Should Use and When Health care workers or anyone meeting the current criteria (as defined by jurisdictional occupational health and safety regulator or local public health agency). Anyone who has COVID-19 or its symptoms, lives in an overcrowded setting with someone who has COVID-19 or its symptoms, provides direct care to a COVID-19 patient, or is at higher risk of exposure or more severe disease or outcomes. General public as part of their regular routine, when the wearer is in a shared space (especially indoors) with people from outside of their immediate household, crowded places, or when advised by the local public health authority.

Good practices

  • Follow the proper procedure for putting on, wearing, and removing your mask. Improperly handling your mask can expose you to the COVID-19 virus.
  • Refer to credible information sources when researching masks such as the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Regardless of the mask selected, it should be well-constructed, well-fitting, and properly worn.
  • Your mask should:
    • Fit snugly around your face.
    • Have at least 2 tightly woven fabric layers and a third filter layer in between (non-medical masks).
    • Be well-constructed and made of breathable materials.
    • Be easily removed if necessary.
    • Not obstruct your vision or interfere with tasks.
  • Consider keeping facial hair short or shaved so that your mask fits closer to your face.
  • Wash cloth non-medical masks with hot, soapy water and allow to fully dry between uses.
  • If your mask has a filter layer, remove it before washing and change it as often as recommended by manufacturer.
  • Carry additional fresh masks with you, especially if your mask is likely to get wet or dirty.
  • Understand the limitations of your mask. Refer to manufacturer or public health recommendations, or your workplace policy.
  • If you are experiencing acne as a result of wearing a mask, make sure to clean your face at least twice a day, apply moisturizer, avoid wearing makeup, and replace your mask with a fresh one frequently to avoid trapped sweat and oil from rubbing on your face for extended time periods.
  • To prevent fogging of eyeglasses, make sure the flexible strip is secured tightly over the bridge of your nose. Clean your lenses with anti-fog eyeglass spray cleaner.
  • To communicate with a person who is hard of hearing and who reads lips, use a mask with a transparent window, written communications, or, if necessary, remove your mask.
  • You may remove your mask when eating or drinking.
  • If removing your mask, follow other public health measures such as physical distancing and put on the mask as soon as possible.
  • Do not wear a mask under your nose.
  • Do not wear a mask that is too loose, large, or small.
  • Do not wear a mask inside-out.
  • Do not share worn masks with other people.
  • Do not put a mask on:
    • Any child under the age of 2
    • Anyone who needs help to remove it
    • Anyone who has trouble breathing through it
  • Do not wear a damaged, dirty, or wet mask. A compromised mask will not be effective at containing particles:
    • A mask can become wet when you sweat, breathe, speak, shout, sing, sneeze, cough, or from a runny nose.
    • A mask can become wet or dirty from airborne droplets from other people, touching a wet or dirty surface then touching the mask, steam from cooking, the weather, or spray and dust from work processes.
    • Wet contaminants such as other peoples’ bodily fluids can soak through your mask and expose you to disease.
  • Do not wear a mask which has a valve or vent because it can allow the escape of exhaled particles.
  • Do not use scarves, bandanas, or neck warmers as face coverings.

Putting your mask on

Link to video: How to Safely Wear a Mask Youtube video from CCOHS

  1. Wash your hands using soap and water. If unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
  2. Remove your mask from its package.
  3. Inspect your mask. Do not use if it’s damaged, wet, dirty, or expired (if applicable).
  4. Move your hair away from your face.
  5. While holding the straps or loops, position the inside of your mask over your mouth and nose.
  6. Secure your mask according to its style:
    • For masks with elastics that go around the ears: hook one ear loop around each ear.
    • For masks with straps that go over the head: pull the upper elastic over the top of the head and the lower elastic around the back of your head.
    • For masks with ties or straps: Tie the upper strap around the top of your head, then tie the lower strap around the back of your head.
  7. Expand your mask fully so it completely covers your nose, mouth and chin, there should be no gaps between your face and the mask. You may need to pull the bottom edge fully under your chin.
  8. Exhale and check if air is escaping from the edges of your mask. Air should be moving through the mask, not the edges. Try the following for a snug fit:
    • If your mask has a flexible nose piece, use both hands to press it to your nose.
    • If your mask has ear loops, tying knots in the loops can help get a snug fit but do not overtighten.
    • Tuck in the sides of your mask so that it lies flat.
    • Use a mask fitter or brace.
    • Wearing a well-fitting non-medical mask over a disposable mask can also provide a snug fit but be sure you can easily breathe through both masks.
  9. Wash your hands again using soap and water for at least 20 seconds if available or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Correct ways of putting mask

Correct ways of putting mask

  1. The mask should fit tightly around your nose and extend all the way under your chin.
  2. Ear loops or straps should be comfortably tight to keep your mask in place.
  3. The mask should not have gaps at the chin, cheeks, or nose. Your breath should pass through your mask and not escape through a gap.
Profile of person wearing a non-medical mask correctly

Incorrect ways to wear a mask

Person wearing a mask around their neck

Around your neck

Person wearing a mask on their forehead

On your forehead

Person wearing a mask under their nose

Under your nose

Person wearing a mask only on their nose

Only on your nose

Person wearing a mask on their chin

On your chin

Person with a mask hanging from one ear

Hanging from an ear

A mask hanging on an arm

On your arm

When wearing your mask

Link to video: How to Care for a Mask Youtube video from CCOHS

  1. Do not touch the outside surface of your mask. Assume that it’s contaminated. If you do touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands right away.
  2. Continue to practice physical distancing and good hygiene. Wearing a mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it can help. Mask wearing is one part of the layered approach that is recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
  3. Take steps to keep your mask clean and dry.
  4. If your mask becomes damaged, wet, or dirty, replace it with a fresh one.
  5. A face shield can be worn over a mask for eye protection but cannot replace a mask.

Taking your mask off

  1. Wash your hands using soap and water. If unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
  2. Do not touch the outside of your mask.
  3. Loosen your mask according to its style:
    • For masks with elastics that go around the ears: unhook both ear loops.
    • For masks with elastics that go over the head: pull the bottom elastic strap, then the top elastic strap over the head.
    • For masks with ties or straps: undo the bottom strap, then the upper strap.
  4. Remove your mask by the straps or loops.
  5. Throw away single-use masks in a plastic lined waste container or use a mask recycling program if one is available to you. Place cloth non-medical masks in the laundry and wash before re-using.
  6. If mask will not be immediately thrown away, recycled, or washed, keep it in a waterproof bag or container away from clean masks.
  7. Wash your hands using soap and water for at least 20 seconds if available or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.