Face masks: Everything you need to know

Your hub for buying and wearing face masks and deciding which is the best mask for you, as well as all the latest face mask news.

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It is now mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport and in shops in England. Face coverings will be compulsory in more indoor spaces from 8 August including cinemas, museums and places of worship. Full advice on our masks hub here.

Some sellers will charge prices far above the average, also known as “price gouging”. We encourage consumers to compare options before making a purchasing decision.

Shop for masks – Which is the best face mask for me?

Mask typeReusableDisposableFilters air?Readily available?Average price

  • No
  • Yes
  • Yes
£1.80 per mask
Cloth mask

  • Yes
  • No
  • No
£7 per mask
Surgical mask

  • No
  • Yes
  • No
£0.80 per mask

The UK government has issued advice that people above the age of two should wear a face covering in shops and on public transport. As of 15 June face coverings were made mandatory on public transport in the UK and on 24 July, it became mandatory to wear a face covering in all shops. These rules have extended to more indoor spaces, with museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship added to the list on 8 August. 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

Tuesday 22 September: Face coverings become mandatory for retail shop workers, pub staff and taxi customers in England.

Monday 10 August: Face coverings become mandatory in shops and confined spaces in Northern Ireland.

Saturday 8 July: Face coverings become mandatory in more indoor spaces including museums, cinemas and places of worship.

Friday 24 July: Legislation comes into force making face masks mandatory in shops across England.

Monday 13 July: Boris Johnson announces that face masks should be worn when shopping as an “extra insurance” against the spread of coronavirus.

Friday 3 July: The Scottish government introduces a new a rule for all members of the public to wear face coverings in shops from July 10.

Thursday 4 June: The UK government introduces a new a rule for all members of the British public to wear face masks on public transport from 15 June, or risk fines.

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.

UK government and World Health Organization (WHO) advice

From 15 June, it became compulsory for people in England to wear a face covering on public transport. From 24 July, face coverings were also mandatory in all shops and on 8 August, these rules were extended to museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship. Exceptions are disabled people, those with breathing difficulties and young children. If you don’t comply, you could be refused entry or even fined. 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 publish their own advice on such restrictions. The public have been told they must wear face coverings in Scotland and Northern Ireland in shops and on public transport. In Wales, people are advised to wear masks when in enclosed spaces.

In June, the World Health Organization (WHO) changed its advice and now recommends that people wear a non-medical mask when in public places where social distancing isn’t possible, to help curb the spread of coronavirus. It continues to recommend that anyone should wear a medical mask if they have contracted COVID-19 or are treating someone who is sick.

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.

Guide to choosing a face mask

Dr. William Li, a bestselling author and president and co-founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation provided Finder with tips on selecting a face mask:

  • Get a mask made of at least 2 layers of fabric to prevent respiratory droplets from being passed through from either side.
  • Choose a mask that has a good fit for your face, covering your nose and mouth with as little air leak around the sides as possible. If there’s a bendable metal strip for the bridge of the nose, that can help create a better seal.
  • Make sure the mask can easily stay attached. Ear loops or ties are convenient features.
    “Find a mask that is comfortable,” Li says. “You need to be able to breathe reasonably comfortably while wearing it.”

“Surgical masks are now easier to find and a good option,” Li adds. “They have been effective in keeping infection rates low in hospitals.”

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

Face mask graphic

Should I share a mask with my family?

No. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t be sharing a mask with anyone. Even if it is your partner or child and you live in the same household, this is something you shouldn’t do. As the virus can spread so rapidly, extra measures need to be taken and good hygiene practices need to be adopted. Sharing a mask will reduce the effectiveness of this preventative measure.

What are type 2 face masks?

Type 2 face masks are medical face masks made up of a protective 3 ply material that prevents large particles from reaching the wearer. They are not effective when blood or bodily fluids are present, however. They are usually designed in a pleat style with ear loops or ties.

Will I be fined for not wearing a mask in the UK?

Face masks are mandatory on public transport throughout the UK. How much you will be charged for not wearing a mask depends on the region you are in. In England, the British Transport Police will charge you £100 on the spot if you do not wear a face mask on public transport and continue to disobey the rules. This fine can double with each offence up to £3,200.

In Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, travel will be forbidden for those not wearing a mask. Police or environmental health officers can also issue a fixed penalty for breaches of these requirements. A first offence is punishable by a penalty of £60 (which doubles for each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £1920).

Who is exempt from wearing face masks?

Those exempt from wearing face masks include:

  • Children under the age of 11.
  • People who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering without experiencing “severe distress”.
  • Individuals with physical or mental disabilities.
  • People who communicate with others through lip-reading.
  • Those who are “travelling to avoid injury, or to escape risk of harm, and do not have a face covering on them”.
  • Individuals needing to remove their face coverings while taking medication.

You don’t have to carry anything to prove that you don’t need to wear a face mask, but if you want to have something you can show, the UK government has cards you can print or display on your smartphone.

Read more on this topic

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