Regardless of where you live, the fact is that wearing protective face masks will more than likely be a part of everyday life for quite a while, even after quarantine restrictions ease up.
You may have seen healthcare people talking about “PPE” when they mention things like masks and gloves, but you probably don’t know what they’re talking about. This stands for “personal protective equipment,” and it includes face masks, gloves, shoe coverings, face shields, and gowns that surgeons and nurses sometimes wear.
I’ve realized recently that there are lots of people who don’t know how to properly use PPE like face masks and gloves, and that’s something that I want to remedy. It is so, so important to understand how to wear a face mask correctly! If you don’t wear it and care for it properly, it’s no better than just going out unprotected.
It is so important to understand how to wear a face mask correctly! If you don’t wear it and care for it properly, it’s no better than just going out unprotected.
Let me preface these tips by saying that I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. I’m just someone who has endured many years of science lab professors hammering instructions about contamination and sterilization into her brain. I’m also someone who can’t just casually research a topic. If I start, I go all in.
So, here are a few tips for wearing your face mask and gloves like a pro.
1. Treat Your Mask Like Your Underwear
I’m intentionally wording this tip to be funny so that it sticks with you, but what I mean is this:
– Put it on before you leave the house.
– Don’t touch it once it’s on.
– Wear it once and then wash it.
See? Just like your underwear.
Putting on your mask before you leave the house is especially important if you live in an apartment or condo. Stairwells and lobby areas are shared spaces, which are more likely to be contaminated.
Once your mask is on, keeping your hands off of it is vital. The whole point is to keep germs away from your face, so every time you touch it, you’re transferring whatever is on your hands to the fabric directly over your nose and mouth. You’re also transferring anything on the fabric to whatever you touch. Gross.
In the medical field, all masks are single-use. This means that they’re either disposable or worn once and then cleaned. You (hopefully) wouldn’t wear the same pair of underwear multiple times before washing them, so do the same for your mask.
2. Make Sure the Mask Fits Well
A mask that is too loose or too tight isn’t helpful. If it’s too loose, it’s not keeping your germs in or other people’s germs out. If it’s too tight, you’ll feel the need to constantly touch or adjust it, or you won’t want to wear it.
There are a number of different mask designs and ways to secure it to your head, so do some research to figure out which style would work best for your face and comfort levels. I personally like the masks that have an adjustable nose piece and elastic ear loops.
Regardless of which type you choose, an effective mask checks all of the following boxes:
– It covers the bridge of your nose AND the bottom of your chin.
– It has no gaps between the sides and your cheeks.
– It is form-fitting around the bridge of your nose.
If you wear glasses, this means that it shouldn’t fog them up too badly. If your glasses are fogging up a lot, the top of the mask isn’t quite secure enough.
3. Don’t Waste Your Gloves
Unless a doctor or healthcare provider has specifically told you to wear gloves, you really don’t need to.
Disposable gloves are used in healthcare as single-contact protection. Basically, this means that they are used for one thing (e.g. drawing blood, swabbing your cheek) and then thrown away.
When you’re wearing them to the grocery store, you’re touching tons of things and just transferring those germs from thing to thing as if your hands were bare. This essentially just means that you’re wasting a pair of gloves.
Another reason that it’s better to not wear gloves is that unless you follow specific, sterile techniques for putting on and taking off disposable gloves, you’re still contaminating your skin and surroundings. (If you want to learn the correct way to put on and remove gloves, check out page 4 of this WHO leaflet.)
The biggest reason that most experts say not to bother with gloves is that they tend to give you a false sense of security. You’re more likely to be less cautious about touching your face or remembering to thoroughly wash your hands, and both of these measures are way more effective than wearing gloves.
If you do wear them, please carefully read the info in the link above. It’s absolutely critical for you to still wash your hands well before and after wearing the gloves, and you need to be careful to take the gloves off in the proper, sterile way.
A Quick How-to For Mask Wearing
1. Wash your hands before touching your clean mask. If you need a refresher, this CDC poster is perfect.
2. Remove your glasses if you wear them, and secure your mask either behind your head or over your ears with loops. It’s okay to touch the front of your mask right now, so take your time and make sure to adjust it to fully and snugly cover from the bridge of your nose to below your chin. Be sure you can comfortably settle your glasses onto your face over the mask.
3. Once you’ve left the house, don’t touch it the mask you can help it. If you must touch your mask, wash your hands before and after.
For Mask Removal & Cleaning
1. Wash your hands!
2. If your mask has ear loops, grasp ONLY the loops on both sides and gently pull the mask off of your face. Be sure the outside of the mask doesn’t touch your face. Still only touching the loops, fold it so that the outside of the mask isn’t showing, and toss it into your next load of laundry.
3. If your mask has ties or elastic that goes around your head, grab the bottom part first. Untie the bottom ties or slide the bottom elastic up first, and then unfasten the top ties or top elastic and pull it slowly off of your head without letting it touch your face.
4. After you’ve tossed your mask in the laundry, wash your hands! Wash! Your! Hands! And put some lotion on too, because cracked hand skin can allow the virus in.
5. You don’t have to do any special sterilization routine for your mask. Hand washing with soap and water or tossing it into a bra bag and machine washing is plenty. Be sure to lay it flat or hang it up to dry so that it doesn’t lose its shape or shrink.
You’ve got this! Practice wearing a mask around your house so that you feel comfortable and confident in it whenever you have to go out, and remember to be vigilant. Masks are useful for protecting you and others, but it’s still important to keep your distance and stay home as much as possible.