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What are the different types of face masks/coverings?

What are the different types of face masks/coverings?

This post describes the different types of face mask and coverings that are widely seen during this pandemic. It describes the three main types : Cloth masks, medical masks and N95 respirators. It also discusses when you might need a face mask.

Cloth or Paper Masks

Cloth mask
Typical cloth mask

These masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and help keep people who unknowingly have the virus from transmitting it to others. Thick, densely woven cottons are good materials for cloth masks.

Procedural and Surgical Masks

Paper mask
Paper surgical mask

These are loose-fitting masks designed to cover the mouth and nose.

Although they are not close fitting, the blue disposable masks commonly seen are fluid resistant and provide some protection from larger respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. Primarily, they help prevent the wearer from spreading infectious droplets to others. Like N95 respirators, these masks are used by health care workers whose safety depends on an adequate supply. They cannot be washed.

Professional Respirators

N95 respirator

Called N95 respirators, these medical devices help prevent exposure to tiny droplets that can be suspended in the air. Health care workers who wear them undergo a fit-test to find the right make, model and size to ensure a tight seal. N95 respirators should be reserved for health care providers and first responders.

What is a face shield?

A face shield is a piece of rigid, clear plastic attached to a headband. The plastic piece covers the face, extending to below the chin.

You might have seen face shields on some health care providers, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Dentists and dental hygienists sometimes wear them when working close to patients’ mouths. Doctors, nurses and technologists might use face shields, together with face masks, when performing procedures that could propel blood or other substances into the air.

Face shield

Should I wear a face shield?

In general, if you wear a mask and maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet between you and other people when in public places, you do not need a face shield. Wearing a mask will help contain your respiratory droplets. Avoid close contact with anyone who is not wearing a mask. If you must be in close contact with someone not wearing a mask, then a face shield or other type of eye protection may provide some additional protection from virus transmission.

For further information see:

For further information see:

Our post on upgrading your mask





Should I wear a face covering?

Should I wear a face covering?

COVID-19 image

Understanding how Covid-19 spreads

COVID-19 spreads through droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can be inhaled by other people or land on surfaces that other people may touch and then ingest by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. 

Guidance on whether face coverings should be worn by the general population as well has been very mixed with guidance varying in different countries around the world. 

What are face coverings?

A face covering is a piece of material that safely covers the nose and mouth. They can be made out of a variety of breathable fabrics, such as cotton.

Face coverings are not the same as medical or surgical masks that are used in hospital settings as personal protective equipment (PPE).

Who’s being advised to wear face coverings?

In England and Scotland you are required by law to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is more difficult. You must wear a mask specifically when travelling on public transport, using indoor transport hubs (eg, train stations and airports), when going to shops and supermarkets, and when visiting indoor shopping centres, banks, building societies and post offices.

From 8 August in England there will be more places where you must wear a face covering, including cinemas, theatres and museums.

In Wales (from 27 July) and Northern Ireland you must wear a face covering when using public transport. You’re also advised to wear one in places where it’s difficult to keep two metres from others, such as supermarkets, but they’re not compulsory at the moment.

What if I can’t wear a face covering?

If you’re particularly worried about wearing one, you may want to try one out around the house first to get used to it and find one you’re comfortable in. There are lots of different styles and materials available you could try.

If you feel that wearing a face covering would cause you harm or severe distress then you don’t have to wear one.

You don’t need to provide any written evidence that says you don’t have to wear a face covering. However you might find it helpful to carry an exemption card or badge with you to help other people understand why you’re not wearing one. You can download a card or badge from the government website. Alternatively you could make your own sign.

The benefits of face coverings

The evidence on the use of simple face coverings is limited, however they may be of some benefit when worn in enclosed public places where it’s more difficult to follow social distancing rules.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said that the use of face coverings in public places may reduce the spread of infection in the community when worn by people who might not realise they’re infected. This is why some countries are encouraging people to wear them in public places.

So face coverings don’t protect you; they protect others you may come into contact with, if you have the virus and don’t realise it yet.

The risks of wearing face coverings

The use of face coverings by the general public more widely in the community may carry extra risks. 

If everyone wears them there is concern it may create a false sense of security leading people to neglect other social distancing measures – like regular handwashing and keeping at least two meters away from others. 

As well as this, face coverings need to be used safely in order to be effective. If used incorrectly there’s a risk of self-contamination. Anyone wearing a face covering should understand how to wear, remove and wash them in the correct way.  

How can I make my own face covering?

You could use existing items of clothing like bandanas or scarves. Alternatively, some people are making their own using various textiles like cotton fabric.

The UK government has issued guidance on how to make and wear your own face covering. Alternatively, there are various patterns and tutorials available for free online (like this one).

If you are making your own face covering, consider the number of layers, the breathability of the material, its water repellence qualities, and the shape and fit of the mask. 

Keep up with other social distancing measures

It’s important to remember that face coverings aren’t a replacement for other social distancing measures.  

Preventative measures like physical distancing, hand hygiene and avoiding touch your face, nose, eyes and mouth should continue to be followed too. These are most effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Finally, if you do experience symptoms of COVID-19 you must stay at home and follow the guidance on self-isolating. Wearing a face covering does not change this guidance.

See external links:

World health organisation






Breathing Machine

How to simulate the human breathing pattern more accurately.

Humans don’t breathe in standard ways. They are not a pure sine wave, in and out evenly. The inhale may be rapid and then a long slow exhale. Older style breathing simulators cannot achieve this variation, being mechanically driven pistons. With a computer controlled drive system, the wave form can be any shape required. It can be repeated endlessly, on demand.

If true human breathing simulation is required, then recording an human’s actual breathing pattern is required. The machine can then reproduce that recording as required. Again, with a computer controlled, infinitely flexible drive system this can be reproduced on demand.