Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

How masks can help prevent COVID-19

7-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

Does wearing a mask reduce my risk of COVID-19?

Surgical and cloth masks help stop droplets spreading when people talk, cough and sneeze, which reduces the risk of spreading the virus.

If you have, or suspect you have, COVID-19, you should wear a fitted, surgical mask when you’re near other people.

How do I wear a mask correctly?

Before and after you put on your mask, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser containing more than 60% alcohol.

While wearing a mask, you should continue to wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your face or the mask.

When you go out, carry a paper bag or zip-lock (plastic) bag with you to keep fresh or spare masks clean.

You can take your face mask off when eating or drinking. You should maintain physical distancing of 1.5m and practise good hygiene. If you need to take a mask off for eating or drinking, it’s best if you put on a new face mask. If this isn’t possible, clean your hands before and after touching it.

How to wear a mask — video

Cloth mask

It’s preferable for cloth masks to have 3 layers. A cloth mask should cover your nose and mouth. It should fit securely on your face with either ear loops or mask strings tied into a bow at the back of your head.

You should change a cloth mask as soon as it becomes visibly wet or dirty. After taking your mask off, store it in a plastic bag until you can wash it.

Surgical mask (single use)

Before putting it on, check for tears. If undamaged, position the coloured side of the mask outward. If the mask has a metallic strip, make sure it sits against the bridge of your nose.

Replace a surgical mask with a new one if it becomes soiled or damp. Do not reuse single-use masks.

Mask fastening

Ear loop mask

Hold the mask by both ear loops and place one over each ear.

Tie mask

Hold the mask by the upper strings. Tie the upper strings together near the crown of your head. Tie the lower strings near the nape of your neck.

Dual-elastic band masks

Pull the lower band over your head to the nape of your neck. Pull the upper band over your head to the crown of your head.

If your mask has a metallic strip, pinch and press it to mould to your nose shape. Pull the bottom of the mask over your mouth and chin so it fits securely. Don’t touch your mask or face once you have put it on.

Download this infographic in PDF format to print it

infographic on how to wear a mask

Read the embedded text separately

Taking off your mask

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Don't touch the front of the mask. Use the ear loops or untie the bow to remove it. If your mask has a pair of ties, undo the bottom one first, then the top.

Cloth mask

Dispose of any filters. Put your mask in the laundry straight away or a plastic bag until you can wash it. Make sure you dispose of the bag.

Surgical mask

Dispose of your surgical mask immediately and responsibly.

Clean your hands after you remove your cloth or surgical mask.

Download this infographic in PDF format to print it

Click to check how to wash a cloth mask

Read the embedded text separately

Is it compulsory to wear a mask?

Your state or territory will decide whether you must wear a mask and under what conditions.

Not all states necessarily have the same rules and situations change rapidly. Check your state or territory government website for the latest requirements, exceptions and exemptions.

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

Can my employer make me wear a mask?

Your employer can make you wear a mask at work if they, in consultation with employees, decide it is necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. If your employer directs you to wear a mask they should be able to provide them.

There are already strict rules in place for workers in some settings such as aged-care facilities.

You should also closely monitor any information provided by your state or territory government and ensure the rules are followed in your workplace.

Is it compulsory to wear a mask at airports and on airplanes?

International travel mask requirements

Passengers and crew on all flights must wear a face mask during their flight and in Australian airports — regardless of whether they’re coming from a safe travel zone or not. They are also encouraged to wear a mask at overseas airports.

You can remove your mask to eat and drink, or if directed by an airline or government official for identification, emergency or other safety purposes.

Passengers should bring their own mask — cloth or surgical masks are acceptable. You should bring enough to last your entire journey. You should change your mask every 4 hours or when it becomes wet.

Children under 12 years of age and people with exemptions do not need to wear a mask.

Domestic travel mask requirements

You must wear a face mask at domestic airports and on domestic flights. Check the Travel page on the healthdirect Restriction Checker for each state and territory’s specific requirements, exemptions and exceptions.

Where can I get masks?

Your healthcare provider will give you a surgical mask to wear when you enter a hospital emergency department or clinic if they suspect that you have COVID-19 — if you don't already have one. The hospital or clinic can also advise you on how to fit and wear masks.

You can purchase reusable and surgical masks from retailers like chemists and hardware stores. You can also make your own cloth mask.

Healthcare providers can get information about acquiring masks and other personal protective equipment, PPE, on the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Should I buy masks online?

There is a huge number of masks for sale online, but they vary in quality and some will give you or others almost no protection.

Masks and face coverings need to cover your mouth and nose properly and fit your face securely. You might not know if this is the case if you buy one online without inspecting it.

It is much safer to purchase a cloth or surgical mask from retailers like chemists.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Face masks & COVID-19: supporting children | Raising Children Network

Children will have varying reactions to seeing face masks during COVID-19. You can help children explore feelings and cope by talking and playing together.

Read more on website

Face masks, teenagers & COVID-19 | Raising Children Network

Teenagers will have mixed reactions to face masks during COVID-19. Talking, role-modelling and negotiating can help teens adjust to seeing and wearing masks.

Read more on website

COVID-19 | SA Health

Health information about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for South Australians. Find COVID-19 testing clinics and read the latest health updates and advice on COVID-19.

Read more on SA Health website

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. It is a new strain of coronaviruses that hasn’t previously been identified in humans.

Read more on WA Health website

COVID-19 and Allergy - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Allergy and COVID-19

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Centre -

In this COVID-19 global pandemic, myDr brings you daily updates, advice and videos on symptoms, testing, and protecting yourself.

Read more on myDr website

COVID-19 & Australian children | Raising Children Network

COVID-19 causes flu-like symptoms. Hand-washing and hygiene can help protect children and families. Call the Coronavirus Line on 1800 020 080 for advice.

Read more on website

Masks and COVID-19 - Musculoskeletal Australia (MSK)

There’s a lot of information and misinformation about wearing masks for protection against COVID-19. We provide you with the facts so you can make an informed decision,

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

Testing positive to COVID-19 while pregnant

Information and advice for pregnant women who test positive to COVID-19 during their pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and having your baby

If your due date is approaching, you may be wondering if it is safe to give birth in a hospital right now. It’s understandable to be concerned, but hospitals are doing everything they can to minimise the risk of COVID-19.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo