Masks

Last revised on May 22, 2020.

There are many types of masks available, ranging from cloth masks to N95 respirator masks. Each type of mask has its place, but not every mask is appropriate for day to day use.

Cloth masks 

Cloth masks may include:

  • those that are made from cloth (for example: cotton);
  • those that have pockets or slots for replaceable filters;
  • and those that are used to cover other masks or respirators to prolong their use.

Even if you wear a cloth mask, physical distancing, hand washing, and monitoring your health continue to be very important. Keeping a 2-metre distance is important, but it isn’t always possible (e.g., in a grocery store, on the bus). Wearing a mask adds an extra layer of protection, especially for others in case you have COVID-19; it may also help reduce your risk in case others have COVID-19.

Singing, shouting, talking, breathing: all create micro-droplets. If you have COVID-19 you may not know it and your micro-droplets would be full of virus. Wearing a cloth mask is something you do to protect others in case you have COVID-19 but don’t know it. It may also help protect you from others who have COVID-19. Wearing a cloth mask is good for everyone.

Remember when wearing any mask to still avoid touching your mask or your face.

If you are going to a public place, Ottawa Public Health asks residents to consider wearing a cloth mask, as they may offer some additional protection to those around you where physical distancing is challenging.

Medical Masks

Medical masks and N95 respirators should not be worn by community members. Medical Masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for specific high-risk settings, and are not recommended for low-risk daily activities. For health care workers looking for information on personal protective equipment, please refer to our section on Infection Prevention and Control.

FAQs about masks

1. Who should wear a cloth mask?
  • If you are sick:
    • If you are coughing or sneezing, wear a cloth mask to protect people around you from getting sick. This is very important if you go to an appointment, clinic, or a hospital. Do not go to other public places when you are sick, even if you are wearing a mask. If you are seeking medical care, an appropriate medical/surgical mask will be given to you. Follow the instructions given to you in the health care setting about how to remove and store your cloth mask while you are there. 
  • If you are not sick and are going to a public place (e.g., grocery store or pharmacy):
    • If you are going to a place where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain (such as the grocery store, pharmacy, or public transit), Ottawa Public Health asks residents to consider wearing a cloth mask, as they may offer some additional protection to those around you.
  • If you are caring for someone who is sick:
    • If you are taking care of someone who is coughing or sneezing, particularly if they are unable to wear a mask, wear a cloth mask when you are close to them. The person you are taking care of should also wear a cloth mask.

2. Who should NOT wear a cloth mask?

Cloth masks should not be placed on:

  • Children under the age of 2.
  • Anyone unable to remove the mask without help.
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious. 
3. What should I avoid about cloth masks?

Cloth masks should not:

  • Contain plastic, paper tissues, or other non-breathable materials.
  • Be shared with others.
  • Impair vision or interfere with tasks.
4. Will a cloth mask protect me from COVID-19?

Be careful when thinking about using cloth masks to protect against COVID-19.There are some things you must keep in mind when choosing to wear cloth masks:

  • They may not block ALL the virus particles that are spread when someone coughs or sneezes.
  • They should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of your face, allowing you to breath easily and be secured with ties or ear loops
  • They should be able to withstand frequent cycles through washing and drying machines.
5. What type of fabric or cloth do I use?
  • Use at least 2 layers of tightly woven fabric that is breathable. Cotton is the most widely used fabric. It is better if the thread count is higher. For example, 600-thread count pillowcases and cotton sheets, quilters cotton, and flannel work well.
  • A combination of fabrics can be used such as a high thread count cotton with silk, chiffon, or flannel. The more comfortable fabric should be on the inside, against the face.
  • If possible, use different fabrics or colours for each side of the mask. This helps you to know which side faces your mouth and which side faces out.
  • 2 layers of fabric means better blocking of germs compared to one layer. A 3rd layer could make the mask less breathable and does not make the mask better at blocking germs.
  • If the mask materials are not breathable enough, air will go out the sides of the mask, and will not protect others or you.
  • 2-layer masks with pleats fit many face shapes and sizes.
  • Masks made with a seam down the middle can leak air and will not block germs as well.
  • A round elastic may more comfortably fit behind the ear than a wide, flat elastic.
6. How do I properly wear a mask?
  • Wash your hands immediately before putting the mask on, immediately before adjusting it, immediately before taking it off, and immediately after taking it off. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands.
  • Make sure your mask completely and comfortably covers the nose and mouth without gaping and allows for easy breathing.
  • Make sure your mask is secured to your head with ties or ear loops without the need to adjust frequently.
  • If you wear glasses, you may also wear a mask. Wash your hands before adjusting your glasses.
  • If your mask has pleats, ensure that the pleats on the outer side are facing down.
  • If your mask has a metal strip over the nose, pinch it to ensure a closer fit over your nose.
  • Replace the mask as soon as it becomes damp or dirty, or if it has shrunk after washing and drying.
  • Do not share your mask with others, even within your own household.
  • Some masks are made and fit differently. Learn how to wear your mask.

Poster: Safely putting on & taking off a non-medical mask (i.e., cloth mask)

7. Can I wear glasses/sunglasses and wear a mask?

If you wear glasses, you may also wear a mask. Wash your hands before adjusting your glasses.

You may need to put the mask on without wearing your glasses to ensure the mask is seated well over your nose. Put your glasses on a clean surface and ensure your hands are clean when putting your glasses back on.

For individuals who wear glasses with their masks additional precautions should be taken. Avoid touching your glasses when wearing your mask. However, if you need to readjust your glasses ensure you wash your hands immediately before and after touching them. OPH recommends taking off your glasses prior to safely taking off your mask. Take off your glasses when you can perform proper hand hygiene, and ensure your glasses can be washed with soap and water to decrease potential spread of COVID-19. 

8. When should I take off my mask?

Ensure you wash your hands before and after removing your mask, or anytime you wish to adjust your mask without removing it. You should take off your mask when:

  • You are safely able to (when physical distancing can be maintained) and the mask can be placed in a lined garbage bin if it is not reusable, in a plastic bag for a short time while transporting it home, or directly into the washing machine
  • It becomes damp or dirty and you can exchange it for a new one if you are still in a situation where you need to wear a mask
9. Can I wear my cloth mask all day?
A mask can be worn all day as long as it does not become damaged, damp, or dirty. Remove your mask with clean hands when you are safely able to do so, and wash your hands with soap and water again after.

It is important to note that:

  • Cloth masks can be re-used throughout the day if clean and intact – with clean hands, fold the mask in half so that the outer surface is inwards (so that the outer surface is not contacting anything during storage) and place it in a clean, sealable bag until ready to use it again the same day
  • A cloth mask should be placed directly into the washing machine. You can place a cloth mask in a plastic bag for a short time to transport it home to launder.
  • A disposable mask should be removed and replaced if soiled, damaged, or hard to breathe through and should be discarded at the end of the day
  • Do not place your used mask into your pocket
  • Do not share your mask with others
10. How do I wash, re-use, and discard a cloth mask?

Wearing a mask can increase your risk of infection if you touch your face more frequently while readjusting it or if you do not wash your hands before putting it on and taking it off. All parts of cloth masks can become contaminated by breathing or when touched by your hands.

Cloth masks become contaminated, especially when touched by your hands. When taking off a cloth mask, follow these steps:

  • After washing your hands, remove your mask by pulling the ties or ear loops away from your ears.
  • Put the mask directly into the washing machine, or in a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine. Throw out the bag after you have used it to store used masks. If the bag is washable you can wash it with your mask. Wash your hands again after removing your mask.
  • Wash the masks with other laundry using a hot cycle. For hand washing, use laundry detergent and water as hot as you can stand, then dry thoroughly. Make sure to remove and discard the filter before washing.
  • When discarding damaged or worn out masks, drop them in a lined garbage bin.
  • Do not leave any discarded masks in places where others can come in contact with them such as shopping carts, public seats, bus stops, or on the ground.

Continue physical distancing and wash your hands often.

11. How do I make a cloth mask?

There are different ways to make cloth masks. Health Canada has provided instructions on how to make cloth masks with sew or no-sew options and has included the types of material you can use to make the cloth masks, such as cotton, t-shirts or bandanas.

Visit Health Canada's website for instructions on how to make a non-medical mask.

12. Do I need to wear a mask if I am travelling?

13. Where can I purchase a cloth mask in Ottawa?

Disclaimer: The following vendors were identified to us via social media by other Ottawa residents. Ottawa Public Health (OPH) does not endorse any particular vendor of cloth masks, nor can we ensure that any vendor is able to maintain stock of these products. We are not liable if there are any issues related to the vendor or the purchased product. The vendors below are listed as a convenience with the intent of promoting the wearing of cloth masks in settings where physical distancing is not possible. If you are aware of other Ottawa-based or Canada-based vendors producing cloth masks that are not currently listed below, please let us know at healthsante@ottawa.ca.

Resources

Contact Us