How to Get the Most Out of Your Mask

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 If you’re still wearing a cloth mask in 2022, now’s the time to upgrade! There are many comfortable options for masks that will also provide you greater protection from the Omicron variant. Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your mask is giving you the best protection.


What mask should I be wearing?

Graphic from CDC listing different kinds of masks and the differences between them

The masks that give you the most protection are high filtration masks, like N95s, KN95s, and KF94s. We recommend you wear the mask with the highest protection that you can also wear comfortably. This is going to be different for everyone!

N95: These are respirators approved by NIOSH in the U.S. to filter 95% or more of small particles. This is what health care workers wear when working with patients with highly infectious illnesses, like TB and COVID patients. You might have also worn these before COVID when dealing with dust during a DYI project. NIOSH-approved N95 respirators haven’t been tested for broad use in children.

KN95: the Chinese equivalent of N95 masks. They have similar filtering properties to an N95, but they are not tested or regulated by NIOSH. They are usually shaped like a clamshell, with a vertical seam down the center.

KF94: the Korean equivalent of N95 masks. Just like KN95s, these have similar filtration properties as N95s but are not tested or regulated by NIOSH. These are often shaped like a boat, with two horizontal seams.

Surgical masks: these are not as protective as any of the masks listed above, but they are lightweight and easy to breathe in. Surgical masks offer more protection than cloth masks. You can wear a surgical mask under a cloth mask for more protection.

Cloth masks: We don’t recommend only wearing a cloth mask at this time unless you do not have a better option. While cloth masks are better than nothing, they don’t provide as much filtration as any of the other options listed above. However, you can use cloth masks on top of surgical masks to get a better fit for your surgical mask! If you do continue to wear a cloth mask only, make sure it has multiple layers and fits closely around your face.


How can I get the best fit with my mask?

Make sure your mask has a tight seal around your face. Your mask should fit tightly around your nose, your cheeks, and your chin, with minimal gapping.

  • When you breathe in, the air should go in and out of the mask and shouldn’t escape around the edges.
  • If you see the mask flex in and out slightly with your breathing, that’s a good sign that it’s filtering your air.
  • If you wear glasses, your glasses shouldn’t fog up (although this is hard to avoid with surgical masks since their fit is looser overall).
  • If you are having gapping issues, try adjusting the nose wire to be tighter or make a knot at the back of the ear/head loops to pull the mask tighter to your face. Don’t criss-cross your ear loops, as that often creates a gap. Try the knot and tuck method instead!
  • Sometimes moving the nose wire a little further down, just below the bony bridge of your nose, can help create a tighter fit.

If you have to talk with a mask on, it should stay over your mouth and nose when talking. If this is an issue for you, look for a mask with horizontal seams. This allows the mask to flex with your jaw as you talk.

Wear a cloth mask over your surgical mask for a tighter fit. Doubling up on your surgical mask with your cloth mask gives you extra protection by giving you some extra filtration and holding the surgical mask tighter to your face.

Consider other fit tools, like mask tape, mask braces, or cord locks. You can use mask tape to get a better seal around your nose, a mask brace to hold a surgical mask tighter to your face, or a cord lock to adjust ear loops and make them tighter.


How do I take care of my mask?

Replace your mask if it gets dirty, damaged, wet, or deformed. You can generally wear high filtration masks and surgical masks more than once before replacing as long as they stay clean, dry, and still fit well.

Store your mask in a well-ventilated place between uses. Let it air dry between uses or store in a paper bag. Do not store it in a plastic bag as that may trap in moisture. Sunlight can break down rubber straps, so your rearview mirror might not be the best place. An example of a good place to store your mask is hanging up on a hook by your front door!

Use good hand hygiene around your mask. Wash your hands or sanitize them when putting on or taking off your mask, and try to handle it by the straps instead of the mask itself.


Where can I find a good mask?

  • Do some research to avoid counterfeits! Buying the first, cheapest pack of masks you find online might not be the best option. Some news sites, like NBC, New York Times, or New York Mag, have compiled lists of recommended masks.
  • Locally, you can check hardware stores, pharmacies, or other stores for surgical or high filtration masks.
  • As of the time of this publication, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County are distributing free N95s and KN95s to the Dane County community.

Resources

Watch: How to Wear a KN95 Mask (PHMDC)
CDC: Types of Masks and Respirators

CDC: Your Guide to Masks

NPR: Ready for an N95? Here’s how to find a high-quality one that fits you well

New York Times: How to Find a Quality Mask (and Avoid Counterfeits)

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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