The right way to wear a disposable mask — and other facts about masks

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Does the white side of a disposable mask face outward, or toward the wearer? How often should a cloth mask be washed? How protective are bandanas?

Nicole Parker, a public health nurse at Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, answered these mask questions and more on Tuesday morning. Since July 1, masks have been mandatory in Douglas County in indoor public spaces or outdoor situations where 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.


What is the proper way to wear a disposable mask?

In order to properly wear a disposable mask, people must identify which side is the inside of the mask. In most cases, Parker said, the white side of the mask is the absorbent side, and should be touching one’s mouth, while the colored side, which is fluid resistant, should face the outside.

If possible, Parker suggested that people view the product details supplied by the manufacturer to ensure that this is the case with the specific type of disposable mask one has. In most cases, however, the front of the mask is the colored side.

Disposable masks also typically have a metal band. This band should be on the top of one’s mask as its malleability allows the wearer to mold the mask around the nose for a better fit.


Should disposable masks be thrown away after one use? How often should cloth masks be washed?

For disposable masks, Parker said it depends on the manufacturer of the mask, but that in most cases they are not meant to be reused. Cloth masks should be regularly washed, she said, although it does depend on the frequency of use.

“If you’re out and about and using a mask frequently, I would consider washing it daily,” Parker said. “If you’re using a mask to answer the front door, chances are, your droplet exposure may be limited, so you wouldn’t have to wash it as often.”


Is a cloth mask preferable to a disposable mask?

Parker said that both cloth masks and disposable masks have been shown to help reduce transmission of COVID-19.

“With this question, it’s important to be aware that not all masks are made the same. It depends on what the mask is made of, how well it fits, and how likely you are to wear it,” she said. “If you can barely breathe through a mask, you’re more likely to readjust it, touch it, or just not wear it at all.”


Are some cloth masks better than others?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks that have a double layer of tightly woven and breathable fabric, Parker said, stating quilting fabric and cotton sheets as options.

“When it comes to cloth masks, double-layer coverings provide better protection than single-layer cloth coverings. Too many layers, however, can be restrictive with breathing,” Parker said.

In terms of the shape of a mask, Parker recommends simply finding one that fits your face and won’t force you to constantly adjust it. It should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and completely cover the nose and the mouth. Masks with adjustable ear straps allow wearers to adjust the length and snugness of the mask, but Parker said that for masks that go around your ears, the straps may be looped into a slip knot to make them adjustable.


Are bandanas as protective as a cloth or disposable mask?

Parker said bandanas are not as protective, but are “better than nothing.”


What other mask facts should the public know?

• Children under 2 should not wear cloth face coverings.

• Only touch a mask by its straps, and wash your hands before and after touching the mask.

• Inspect your mask regularly for tears or holes.

• If wearing a mask for multiple outings, know which side is the inside and which side is the outside so as not to accidentally put the “contaminated side” on your mouth.

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