Double masking and five other ways to get the most out of your face mask


Update: On April 27, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear face masks outdoors when walking, running or biking alone, with members of their household or while attending small, outdoor gatherings.

With pandemic fatigue taking hold and vaccine distribution underway, you may find yourself relaxing when it comes to safeguarding against COVID-19. But with new variants of coronavirus surfacing worldwide, it’s more important than ever to keep up the precautions you take.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the coronavirus variants identified from the United Kingdom (called B.1.1.7), South Africa (called B.1.351) and Brazil (called P.1) spread more easily and quickly than other variants. These strains are circulating in the United States and evidence suggests that they may be 50% more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants.

With that in mind, now is the perfect time to reevaluate the steps you take to stay safe, especially when it comes to wearing a face mask. These recommendations will help to boost your protection against COVID-19:

Consider double masking

Studies show that wearing a face mask can protect you and others around you by filtering at least 50% of fine droplets and particles .

The CDC recently updated their guidance on masks, noting that the better the mask fits your face, the more effective it is at protecting you from COVID-19. You can continue to wear one quality mask with at least two layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric; it should completely cover your nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of your face and under your chin, without gaps.

With more contagious coronavirus variants circulating, you may want to consider wearing two masks together for added protection. The best option for double masking is a two-layer cloth mask worn over a surgical mask; the cloth mask should push the edges of the surgical mask against your face and reduce gaps. Pairing these two types can filter out more than 90% of particles, compared with wearing either mask alone.

The CDC warns not to wear two surgical masks at a time or combine a KN95 mask with any other mask .

Add a face mask filter

Many cloth face masks offer a filter pocket between layers. While many people wear the mask without a filter, adding one will increase your protection.

Disposable paper-style filters are designed to be inserted into a face mask and offer a breathable layer that makes your mask more effective. To achieve results similar to double masking, insert a surgical mask into the filter pocket of your mask.

Use a mask brace

A mask brace, or mask fitter, can make any cloth or surgical face mask more effective. The reusable silicone brace fits over a single mask to close any gaps. In a study conducted by independent scientists at the University of Wisconsin, disposable surgical masks used with a mask fitter filtered 95% of particles in some cases.

Switch to a professional-grade medical mask

N95 masks are the gold standard of protection. They meet the standards of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and filter out 95% of airborne particles.

While N95 masks remain scarce and are reserved for medical professionals, there are other masks that are not NIOSH-approved but may offer a high level of protection:

  • KN95 masks: These are the Chinese equivalent of N95s (claiming 95% filtration) and offer a similar tent-like tight fit. KN95s aren’t approved by NIOSH for medical use but when used outside of the health care setting, these masks are a good alternative to surgical or cloth masks.
  • KF94 masks: These Korean-made masks are comparable to N95s and claim to filter 94% of particles. Like N95s and KN95s, they have an adjustable bridge to create a tight fit on your nose. Side flaps contour to your face and close any gaps, making these a better option than looser fitting masks.

There are many reports of fake or ineffective masks claiming to be KN95s and KF95s. Before purchasing a mask claiming to be either of these types, consult the CDC’s assessment of international respirators.

Make your mask fit better

If you need to constantly adjust your face mask, it may be a sign that you need to alter your mask or purchase a different type or brand. Your mask should sit snugly on the bridge of your nose and stretch down under your chin. The sides should be flat against your cheeks with no gaps or areas for air to enter.

A recent study found that simple modifications to a surgical face mask may improve filtration to as much as 80.2%. Finding a mask that fits well is ideal, but there are ways to adjust your mask if it is:

  • Loose on your nose: If your mask does not have a metal nose piece, you can add one. Join several wire twist ties, cut a small slit in the top band of your mask and insert the wires.
  • Too big: Shorten the ear loops by tying a knot in each loop. Do not crisscross the loops, as it will cause the mask to gap on your cheeks. You can also use a clip to fasten the ear loops together around the back of your head.
  • Too small: Attach yarn or a shoelace to each ear loop. Tie them together behind your head.

Practice cleanliness with your face coverings

Before putting on your face mask, wash your hands with soap and water. Handle the mask by the ear loops and avoid touching the mask itself. Remove the mask with clean hands by touching only the ear loops. Wash your hands immediately after removing it.

Throw disposable masks out after a single use. Wash non-disposable masks daily using regular laundry detergent and the hottest water allowed for the fabric type. Dry your mask in a warm or hot dryer. Remember to wash your hands after putting your mask in the washing machine and before removing it from the dryer.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have questions about your health, contact your primary care provider.