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Mask Up Right: How to Make Sure Your Masks Work

Let’s face it, nobody likes wearing a mask. Masks keep us from seeing facial expressions and hearing voices clearly, which most of us are craving as the days and weeks of isolation go by.

Masks have become a part of our daily life. Some consider the face coverings an everyday essential to grab before leaving the house; others, a necessary evil; and still more aren’t so keen on the idea.

So, that begs the question,

Do masks really work?

The answer is YES!

Wearing a face mask doesn’t just protect others from getting infected, it protects you too, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, they cite growing evidence that backs up the claim that wearing a mask helps protect the person who puts it on.

In a scientific brief, the CDC listed several studies that have confirmed the benefit of universal masking. One study points to epidemiological studies that show mask-wearing works, including a Beijing study of 124 households in which masks cut virus transmission by 79% along with an outbreak aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, in which face coverings helped reduce the infection risk by 70%.

Let’s follow the science proving that masks really work. Please wear a mask for the healthcare workers who are struggling with exhaustion like never before, for grandma, for the retired firefighter with breathing problems, for your family, for your friends and for all of us. 

Not all masks are created equal

Wearing a mask made from the right material and wearing it consistently and correctly is the recipe for stronger protection. To help you navigate the plethora of face coverings to choose from, here are some things to keep in mind that follow CDC guidelines.

  • Masks should be made with at least two layers of washable, breathable, tightly woven fabric, like cotton, and should fit snugly over your nose, mouth and chin.
  • Choose a mask with a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top of your mask. Another option is to use a mask fitter or brace to keep your mask sealed against your face.
  • If you don’t have a mask with at least two layers of fabric, you should wear one disposable mask underneath your cloth mask. This helps create a seal for optimal protection. Do not layer two disposable masks; this combination will not create a protective, tight fit. Do not layer another mask with an N95 mask; the N95 provides enough protection.
  • Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science research and finds that traditional square bandanas are the least effective among mask options.
  • N95 masks need to be properly fitted and should be reserved for healthcare workers.
  • Do not choose a mask with an exhalation valve or vent, as this will allow virus particles to escape.
  • While evaluation is still ongoing, face shields alone are not recommended.

Are gaiters ok?

There have been media reports questioning the effectiveness of gaiter face covers. The same rules for masks also go for gaiters. A study by the University of Georgia shows that the level of protection provided by a face covering appears driven by the number and quality of layers of material – not whether it’s in the form of a gaiter or a mask. That means, neck gaiters can provide a level of protection equivalent to masks. But you’ll want to be sure it has two layers of fabric or is folded over to make two layers.

Want to accessorize?

That’s ok too. There’s been quite a bit of innovation when it comes to masks. Accessories like chains, straps and lanyards can hold the mask around your neck so you won’t lose track of it.

Face mask accessories can boost safety if they help secure the fit, prevent your mask from falling on the floor, or get rid of the need to store it in unclean spots like your purse or pocket.

How do I take care of my mask?

Just like undies, you should wash your mask regularly and change it daily. Always remove masks correctly and wash your hands after handling a used mask.

Check out the CDC website that has lots of tips and cool visuals on how to select, wear, and clean your mask. 

Are you frustrated with mask wearing? Find some Solutions to Common Face Mask Frustrations.

Still have questions? Get more Answers to Your Face Mask Questions


Go to COVID-19 Toolkit page on OhioHealth blog