Posted by CDC on Aug 15th 2021

COVID-19 / DELTA VARIANT by CDC

Your Guide to Masks

Updated Aug. 13, 2021

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Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Travelers are not required to wear a mask in outdoor areas of a conveyance (like on open deck areas of a ferry or the uncovered top deck of a bus).

How to Select

When selecting a mask, there are many choices. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

DO choose masks that
DO choose masks that have 2 or more layers of washable, breathable fabric graphic.

Have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric

DO choose masks that completely cover your nose and mouth;

Completely cover your nose and mouth

DO choose masks that fit snugly against the sides of your face and don't have gaps.

Fit snugly against the sides of your face and don’t have gaps

Girl with glasses and mask

Have a nose wire toprevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask

DO NOT choose masks that
DO NOT choose masks that are made of fabric that makes it hard to breath, for example, vinyl

Are made of fabric that makes it hard to breathe, for example, vinyl

No masks with valves

Have exhalation valves or vents which allow virus particles to escape

DO NOT choose masks that are intended for healthcare workers, including N95 respirators or surgical masks

Are prioritized for healthcare workers, including N95 respirators

Special Considerations

Gaiters & face shields
graphic of a man wearing a gaiter

Wear a gaiter with two layers, or fold it to make two layers

graphic of a woman with a face shield

Not recommended: Evaluation of face shields is ongoing, but effectiveness is unknown at this time.

Children
COVID

Find a mask that is made for children to help ensure proper fit

children COVID

Check to be sure the mask fits snugly over the nose and mouth and under the chin and that there are no gaps around the sides

children - COVID

Do NOT put on children younger than 2 years old

People with beards

Certain types of facial hair, like beards, can make mask fitting difficult. Masks that fit well protect you better. To have a better fit, people with beards can shave their beards or trim their beards close to the face.

Other ways to improve fit

graphic of a bearded man wearing a disposable fitter

Use a mask fitter or brace.

graphic of a bearded man wearing a disposable cloth

Wear one disposable mask underneath a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric. The second mask should push the edges of the inner mask against the face and beard.

For people with beards that are not trimmed close to the face, masks may fit loosely around the beard. However, people with beards should still wear a mask. Masks designed for people with beards are being evaluated, and information will be provided when it becomes available.

Wearing a mask does not raise the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the air you breathe

Cloth masks and surgical masks do not provide an airtight fit across the face. The CO2 escapes into the air through the mask when you breathe out or talk. CO2 molecules are small enough to easily pass through mask material. In contrast, the respiratory droplets that carry the virus that causes COVID-19 are much larger than CO2, so they cannot pass as easily through a properly designed and properly worn mask.

How to Wear

Wear a mask correctly and consistently for the best protection.

  • Be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on a mask.
  • Do NOT touch the mask when wearing it. If you have to often touch/adjust your mask, it doesn’t fit you properly, and you may need to find a different mask or make adjustments.
Do wear a mask that
Do wear a mask that: Covers your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin; Fits snugly against the sides of your face.
  • Covers your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.
  • Fits snugly against the sides of your face.

How NOT to wear a mask

elderly woman with mask around her neck

Around your neck

man with mask on forehead

On your forehead

man with mask under nose

Under your nose

man with mask on face but without his mouth covered

Only on your nose

man with mask on chin

On your chin

woman with mask hanging from ear

Dangling from one ear

man with mask hanging on arm

On your arm

How to take off a mask
Guy taking off mask
lite icon

Carefully, untie the strings behind your head or stretch the ear loops

graphic of hands holding an orange mask

lite icon

Handle only by the ear loops or ties

graphic of the inside of an orange mask

lite icon

Fold the outside corners together

graphic of a person cleaning their hands

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Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing and wash hands immediately after removing

How to Clean

how to clean mask

Reusable masks should be washed whenever it gets dirty or at least daily. If you have a disposable face mask, throw it away after wearing it once. Always and wash your hands after handling or touching a used mask.

Using a washing machine

illustration, washing machine

  • Include your mask with your regular laundry.
  • Use regular laundry detergent and the appropriate settings according to the fabric label.
By hand

laundry detergent

  • Wash your mask with tap water and laundry detergent or soap.
  • Rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove detergent or soap.

Dry your mask

Dryer

Illustration clothes in dryer

  • Dry your mask completely in a warm or hot dryer
By hand

illustration, cloth masks hanging on a clothes line

  • Hang your mask in direct sunlight to dry completely. If you cannot hang it in direct sunlight, hang or lay it flat and let it dry completely.

For information on the sources for our mask guidance, see Recent Studies.

How to Store

Store wet or dirty masks in a plastic bag

face mask being placed in a plastic bag

If your mask is wet or dirty from sweat, saliva, make-up, or other liquids or substances, keep it in a sealed plastic bag until you can wash it. Wash wet or dirty masks as soon as possible to prevent them from becoming moldy. Wet masks can be hard to breathe through and are less effective than dry masks.

Store masks that are not wet or dirty in a paper bag

mask being placed in paper bag

You can store your mask temporarily to reuse later. Remove your mask correctly and wash your hands after touching a used mask. Keep it in a dry, breathable bag (like a paper or mesh fabric bag) to keep it clean between uses. When reusing your mask, keep the same side facing out.

If you are taking off your mask to eat or drink outside of your home, you can place it somewhere safe to keep it clean, such as your pocket, purse, or paper bag. Make sure to wash or sanitize your hands after removing your mask. After eating, put the mask back on with the same side facing out. Be sure to wash or sanitize your hands again after putting your mask back on.