Face masks: Everything you need to know

Your hub for buying and wearing face masks, as well as all the latest news.

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The UK government has issued advice that people above the age of two should wear a face-covering when in enclosed spaces such as shops and on public transport. Some people are working in jobs where they need a mask but haven’t been provided with one. Our hub covers everything from how to make a face-covering to where to source masks in bulk.

Latest updates

Monday 11 May: A new government document sets out changes to coronavirus advice, including wearing face coverings in crowded places and washing clothes regularly.

Sunday 10 May: Boris Johnson announces UK’s new three-step plan to ease the country out of lockdown and changes message from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay alert’.

Monday 4 May: Three UK airports make face coverings and gloves mandatory while travelling.

Tuesday 28 April: The Scottish government recommends people cover their faces while in some enclosed public spaces, such as shops and public transport.

Thursday 23 April: Scientific advisers are today set to give cabinet information on whether the public should wear face masks.

Wednesday 22 April: Germany’s states make face mask use compulsory. Bremen became the final federal region to back the measures, with its senate set to confirm the decision on Friday.

Monday 20 April: 100 leading doctors call for the UK public to wear home-made face masks.

Friday 17 April: The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, writes a letter to the transport secretary Grant Shapps, demanding that the UK capital should follow New York in wearing masks where social distancing isn’t possible.

Tuesday 14 April: The UK revisits guidance on the public’s use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thursday 9 April: The World Health Organization’s latest evidence review concludes wearing a mask in public is not effective against coronavirus.

Friday 3 April: The World Health Organization (WHO) prepares to weigh up guidance on the public’s use of face masks.

Thursday 2 April: The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that Americans wear their own cloth masks, as increasing evidence suggests that people without symptoms can spread coronavirus.

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UK government and World Health Organization (WHO) advice

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), you only need to wear a mask if you have contracted COVID-19 or are treating someone who is sick. The latest advice from the UK government is that people in England, aged two and over, should wear a face-covering when in an enclosed public space such as in certain shops, or on public transport, where it’s hard to keep apart from other people. The aim of face-coverings is to help prevent the wearer from inadvertently spreading the disease – some people have no symptoms but can spread it. The key points of the government’s message, to help curb the spread, are to stay home as much as possible, limit contact with others, keep two metres apart, where possible, if you go out, and wash your hands regularly. As devolved nations, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to publish their own advice on such restrictions. The public are already advised to wear masks in Scotland and Northern Ireland when in enclosed spaces such as shops or on public transport.

How to wear a cloth face mask

Cloth face coverings should:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Include multiple layers of fabric
  • Allow for breathing without restriction

How to fit your mask properly

When putting a mask on, a tight seal should be created against your nose and mouth. If you’re using a medical mask, follow the instructions provided with your mask for a correct fit. In all cases, test that a seal has been created by exhaling heavily. Air should not escape through any cracks. If a seal hasn’t been created, re-fit and test again.

How to remove your mask properly

First, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before putting on or removing your mask. When you’re ready to take it off, do not touch the front of the mask – it could be contaminated. Instead, remove it carefully using the ties or ear loops. Put the mask straight into the wash if it is re-usable, or discard it, before washing your hands again.

Popular mask certifications compared

Example Conforms to Minimum filter efficiency requirement Maximum total inward leakage requirement Maximum permitted inhalation resistance Maximum permitted exhalation resistance Stockists
N95 an n95 protective face mask USA: NIOSH (42 CFR 84) 95% N/A 3.43mbar at 85l/min 2.45mbar at 85l/min Stockists
FFP3 an ffp3 protective face mask EUROPE: EN 149:2001+A1:2009 99% 2% 1.0mbar at 30l/min
3.0mbar at 95l/min
3.0mbar at 160l/min Stockists
KN95 a KN95 protective face mask CHINA: GB2626 95% 8% 3.5mbar at 85l/min 2.5mbar at 85l/min Stockists
FFP2 an ffp2 protective face mask EUROPE: EN 149:2001+A1:2009 94% 8% 0.7mbar at 30l/min
2.4mbar at 95l/min
3.0mbar at 160l/min -
FFP1 an ffp1 protective face mask EUROPE: EN 149:2001+A1:2009 80% 22% 0.6mbar at 30l/min
2.1mbar at 95l/min
3.0mbar at 160l/min -
P2 a p2 protective face mask AUS/NZ: AS/NZ 1716:2012 94% 8% 0.7mbar at 30l/min
2.4mbar at 95l/min
1.2mbar at 85l/min -
DS2 a DS2 protective face mask JAPAN: JMHLWNotification 214, 2018 95% N/A 0.7mbar at 40l/min (with valve)
0.5mbar at 40l/min (no valve)
0.7mbar at 40l/min (with valve)
0.5mbar at 40l/min (no valve)
DL2 a DL2 protective face mask JAPAN: JMHLWNotification 214, 2018 95% N/A 0.7mbar at 40l/min (with valve)
0.5mbar at 40l/min (no valve)
0.7mbar at 40l/min (with valve)
0.5mbar at 40l/min (no valve)

Sources: Smart Air, 3M, Health and Safety Executive

How to make your own face mask

If you want to make your own face-covering, guides like this one from the New York Times outline the steps that can have you wearing a cloth mask in an hour or two. If you have a small swatch of fabric about the size of a napkin, shoelaces, scissors, and a needle and thread, you can make a mask without additional supplies.

What’s the difference between a surgical mask and an N95 mask?

Face mask graphic

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