Last revised on July 03, 2020.

The use of cloth masks can help control the spread of COVID-19. Ottawa Public Health has recommended their use when physical distancing is not possible. When it comes to indoor public spaces, it can be difficult to know if physical distancing is possible until entering. This is why the City of Ottawa is mandating the use of cloth masks in many indoor public spaces.
Please see the Mayor’s and Chair of Ottawa’s Board of Health’s statement on mandatory masking in Ottawa


The best thing you can do to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is staying at home if you are sick, washing your hands regularly with soap and water and maintaining a physical distance of two metres or six feet from others. 

Ottawa Public Health recommends wearing a cloth mask when in public places, like the grocery store, especially if physical distancing is not possible. Beginning on June 15, all OC Transpo customers are required to wear a cloth mask while using their services, but some exceptions apply. For more information, visit 

How do masks work? 

Wearing a cloth mask helps to trap COVID-19 if you are sick and protects people who are around you. Since some people who are infected with COVID-19 may have the virus and not know it, whenever people are going out and might come into close contact with other people they should wear a mask. When other people wear a mask they are helping to protect you as well. 

Wearing a cloth mask should not replace other protective measures including physical distancing, hand washing, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands and self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms.

VIDEO : Why, when and where should I wear a cloth mask? 

What type of mask should I wear? 

There are many types of masks available including non-medical cloth masks that can be washed and reused, disposable masks that can only be worn once and medical masks such as N95 respirators that should be reserved for front-line health care workers.  

Cloth masks  

When buying or making a cloth mask you should look for masks that are made with: 

  • Two or three layers of tightly woven but breathable cloth such as cotton,flannel or quilting cotton 
  • No seams over the mouth and nose through which air may leak 
  • Horizontal pleats to help fit a variety of faces  

Disposable non-medical face masks 

Disposable non-medical face masks may be worn instead of a cloth mask. These masks are single use masks and should be put in the garbage after use. 

Medical Masks 

Like many countries, Canada continues to face a shortage of masks and other personal protect equipment for health care workers.To preserve supplies for healthcare workers medical masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for specific high-risk settings and are not recommended for lower-risk day-to-day activities like when you are in a grocery store or while taking public transportation.N95 respirators with valves, which let air out more easily when you breathe out, should never be used when the intent is to protect others from the virus you may be shedding because they will not trap the virusFor health care workers looking for information on personal protective equipment, please refer to our section onInfection Prevention and Control. 

FAQs about masks

1. Who should wear a cloth mask?

If you are sick: 

  • You should stay at home. If you need to go to a medical appointment, clinic or a hospital you should wear a mask.Avoid going to other public places when you are sick, even if you are wearing a mask. Once at your medical appointment, an appropriate medical/surgical mask may be provided to you.Follow the instructions given to you by a medical professional for wearing medical masks.At home, you should wear a mask when you must leave your room to go to a space that is sharewith other people in your home. 

If you are well and going to a public place such as a grocery store or pharmacy: 

  • Wear a cloth mask to protect individuals who are around you 

  • Some businesses or organizations may require you to wear a mask in order to access their services. Effective June 15, you must wear a mask if you are using OC Transpo. 

If you are caring for someone who is sick and has or may have COVID-19: 

  • Wear a cloth mask and maintain physical distancing (staying at least two metres or six feet apart) whenever possible if the person you are caring for has a fever, is coughing or is sneezing. If able to, the person you are taking care of should also wear a cloth mask to prevent spreading the virus to others. 

2. Who should NOT wear a cloth mask?

Cloth masks should not be placed on: 

  • Young children under the age of two 

  • Anyone who has trouble breathing

  • Anyone who is unable to remove the mask without help 

  • Anyone who is unconscious or incapacitated 

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, including those in your household 

  • Impair vision or interfere with tasks 

Things to consider when choosing to wear a cloth mask: 

  • They may not block all the virus droplets that are spread through coughing or sneezing. 

  • They should fit snugly but comfortably over the nose and against the side of your face, be secured with ties or ear loops and allow for easy breathing. 

  • They should be made of cloth that tolerates frequent washing and drying. Cloth masks should be discarded if the material is frayed or has holes. 

4. Will a cloth mask protect me from COVID-19?

Wearing a cloth mask helps to trap COVID-19 if you are sick and protects people who are around you. Since some people who are infected with COVID-19 may have the virus and not know it, whenever people are going out and might come into close contact with other people they should wear a mask. When other people wear a mask they are helping to protect you as well. 

Mask wearing cannot guarantee protection from the virus and should not replace proven measures such as frequent handwashing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, practicing physical distancing and staying at home if you are sick. 

To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, everyone should: 

  • Stay home as much as possible 

  • Avoid groups of people and crowded spaces 

  • Maintain physical distance (at least two metres or six feet) whenever possible 

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer 

  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with tissues or your sleeve and wash your hands immediately after 

5. What type of fabric or cloth do I use?

Several organizations have proposed guidelines for mask design including what type of fabric or style to use. This is an area of active research and new evidence will likely emerge in the coming months. At this time,Ottawa Public Health recommends the following materials and design for masks: 

  • Use two or three 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, it is recommended that a 120 thread count or higher be used.A combination of fabrics can be used such as a pillowcases, cotton sheets and high thread count cotton with silk, chiffon, quilters cotton or flannel. The more comfortable fabric should be on the inside, against the face. 
  • Some organizations suggest using a third non-absorbent layer of fabric. A third layer of fabric may make the mask slightly better at keeping droplets (which may contain COVID-19) in but also could make a mask less breathable and harder to wear for longer periods of time. 
  • Choose fabrics that can withstand multiple washing cycles using hot water. 
  • If possible, use different fabrics or colours for the inside and outside of the mask. This will indicate which side to place over your face. 
  • Masks with pleats fit more face shapes and sizes. 
  • Masks made with a seam down the middle can leak air and may not block droplets as well as other styles of masks. 
  • A round elastic may fit more comfortably behind the ear than a wide, flat elastic. 
6. How do I properly wear a mask?

  • Immediately wash your hands before putting the mask on, before adjusting it, before taking it off and after taking it off. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands. 
  • Make sure your mask allows for easy breathing and completely and comfortably covers the bridge of the nose, covers your mouth, fits snugly under your chin and against the sides of your face.  

  • Make sure your mask is secured to your head with ties or ear loops without the need to adjust frequently. 

  • If your mask has pleats, ensure that the pleats on the outside are facing down. 

  • If your mask has a metal strip over the nose, gently mould it over the bridge of your nose to ensure a close fit. 

  • Replace the mask as soon as it becomes damp, dirty, damaged or if it has shrunk after washing and drying.  

  • Do not share your mask with others, even within your own household. 

Masks are not all made the same and may fit differently. Find a mask that fits your face and learn how to wear yourmask. 

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

7. What kind of mask can I wear with a hijab, niqab or burqa?

Wearing a head covering does not replace a cloth mask. Head coverings are not designed to filter air in terms of materials and they do not have a number of layers. The mask may have to be worn underneath the head covering to ensure the best fit against the face. Make sure the cloth mask fully covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face. 

8. How do I use a mask while wearing glasses/sunglasses?

You may need to take off your glasses before putting on your mask to ensure the mask is placed properly over your nose. Avoid touching your glasses when wearing your mask. If you need to readjust your glasses, ensure you wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer immediately before and after touching them. 

It is recommended that you take off your glasses prior to safely taking off your mask. Only take off your glasses and mask when you can wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Your glasses can be washed with soap and water to decrease potential spread of COVID-19.

9. When should I take off my mask?

Ensure you wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing your mask or anytime you wish to adjust your mask. 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. 

10. 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. Do not share your mask with others. Remove your mask with clean hands when you are safely able to do so and wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Do not place your used mask into your pocket.It is important to note that: 

Cloth masks: 

  • Cloth masks can be re-used throughout the day if not soiled and undamaged. With clean hands, remove the mask from your face and fold it in half so that the outer surface is inwards (so that the contaminated 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. 

  • 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. 

Disposable masks: 

  • Should be removed and replaced if soiled, damaged or hard to breathe through.  

  • Are for one time use only and need to be thrown into the garbage after use.  

11. Masks and the heat 
  • Wearing a mask is important to decrease the transmission of COVID-19 in any indoor setting where it may be difficult to maintain at least two-metre or six feet distance 

  • Wearing a mask outdoors is necessary in situations when proper physical distancing cannot be maintained. 

  • Although wearing masks may become more uncomfortable in hot temperatures, they will still work. You may need to change your mask more frequently in hot and humid temperatures as it may become damp more quickly. 

  • Plan outdoor activities for the coolest times of the day and take breaks in the shade or cool environment if you find wearing a face mask uncomfortable in the heat.  

Outdoor workers: For people undertaking physical exertion in heat, a mask can make the effort more difficult. Decreasing intensity and volume of work, taking more frequent rests and taking more cooling breaks may be necessary. Discuss with your employer. 

12. Should I wear a cloth mask when I exercise? 

Wearing a mask when exercising may not be possible because of higher heart and breathing rates. Exercising without a mask is safer outdoors if there are people around who are not from your own household. If you are exercising outdoors, briefly passing someone on the sidewalk or road is not considered a significant risk for exposure to COVID-19. When exercising outdoors (such as jogging, cycling or skateboarding) here are some ways to stay safe:  

  • Maintain at least a two-metre (six feet) distance from others

  • When in single file, spacing needs to increase with speed of movement 

  • Step-aside or pass others quickly and courteously on sidewalks 

  • If you are with others, travel in single file to allow others to pass safely 

  • If possible, consider using shared paths and sidewalks when it’s less busy 

13. How do I wash, re-use, and discard a cloth mask?

Wearing a cloth mask can increase your risk of infection if you touch your face more frequently to adjust 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 with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, remove your mask by pulling the ties or ear loops away from your ears. 

  • If your mask has a removable, non-reusable filter, make sure to remove and throw out the filter before machine or hand- washing your mask. 

  • For machine washing, 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 your mask. If the bag is washable you can wash it with your mask. Wash your hands again with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after handling your mask. 

  • Wash the masks with other laundry using a hot water cycle.  

  • For hand washing, use laundry detergent and water as hot as you can stand, then dry thoroughly. 

  • 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. 

  • Cloth masks can be re-used throughout the day if not soiled and undamaged.With clean hands, remove the mask from your face and fold it in half so that the outer surface is inwards (so that the contaminated 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.

  • Disposable masks should not be washed, reused or recycled.  

14. Do I need to wear a mask if I am travelling?
15. How do I make a cloth mask?

There are different ways to make cloth masks.

Use these resources to make your own cloth mask: 

16. Where can I get a cloth mask in Ottawa?

  • United Way Facing Forward Project 

The United Way East Ontario has worked with Ottawa Public Health to launch the FacingForward project to help supply cloth masks to residents in need, such as isolated seniors and the homeless community.You can buy cloth masks in bundles of 25 for your workplace, your family or other groups. Proceeds from your purchase will provide masks to those most in need. More information can be found at:

  • Making Masks 

View FAQ #12: How do I make a cloth mask? 

  • Help Getting a Mask

If you live in Ottawa and do not have the means to purchase a mask, call 3-1-1 or email the Human Needs Task Force ( to find out how to get one.

  • Mask Vendor list 

Disclaimer: The following vendors were identified to us via social media by other Ottawa residents. Ottawa Public Health 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

    • Adult and child sizes available

17. How can I donate cloth masks? 

The Human Needs Task Force is seeking donations of non-medical masks to distribute to vulnerable residents. These donated masks will be distributed throughout the City to Community Partners who will connect directly with those in their neighbourhoods who have no other means of accessing a cloth mask. 

How to donate - If you are interested in donating, call 3-1-1 or send your offer of contribution to  Please indicate the item(s), quantity and whether the donations are commercial-grade and contained in the original packaging. You must follow physical distancing when dropping off donations.

The City is asking for cloth masks that are made with: 

  • Two or three layers of tightly woven but breathable cloth such as cotton, flannel or quilting cotton 

  • No seams over the mouth and nose through which air may leak 

  • Horizontal pleats to help fit a variety of faces 

18. Can a face shield be used as a replacement or substitute to a cloth mask?

A face shield is not a substitute for wearing a face mask as it does not filter respiratory droplets. A face shield may provide additional protection for the wearer against droplets expelled from another person, however these droplets may still be inhaled around the shield. Respiratory droplets expelled by the wearer may escape around the sides of the face shield, which therefore provides less protection to others. If you choose to wear a face shield, we recommend - if possible - to wear it in addition to a properly fitted cloth masks. 

19. Is a face shield a good alternative for someone who can't wear a mask?

A face shield would not be considered an equal substitute for a face mask as it does not provide filtering capacity. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) supports the use of face shields as a “better than nothing” alternative to facemasks if there is a shortage of non-medical masks or for populations who are not able to properly wear non-medical masks, such as individuals with a respiratory condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. The WHO makes note that face shields are inferior to facemasks at preventing the spread of an infection through droplets and at a minimum should extend below the chin and cover the sides of the face. 

20. Are masks mandatory in Ontario?

While the province of Ontario has not made masks mandatory, some municipalities now have provisions in place (or soon to be) for mandatory masks. If you’re travelling within the province, please be sure to:

  • bring a cloth mask with you
  • check the area you are travelling to for mandatory masks orders or by-laws

Some municipalities with orders and by-laws for mandatory masks include:


Canada Care Medical

·       Windsor-Essex County Health Unit

·       Public Health Sudbury & Districts

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