Skip to main content

We use small files called cookies to help us improve your experience on this website and to provide services like web chat. We also use cookies to measure the effectiveness of public health campaigns and understand how people use the website.

Read our cookies policy to find out more about cookies and how we use them.

Cloth face coverings, medical masks and disposable gloves

Last updated: 15 June 2020 at 4.05pm

Wear a face covering in situations where it is difficult to practice social distancing. For example, in shops and on public transport.

Face coverings help prevent people who do not know they have the virus from spreading it to others.

If you wear one, you should still do the important things necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.

These include:

  • social distancing
  • covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze
  • washing your hands properly and often
  • not touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

Read our advice on how to protect yourself and others.

Cloth face coverings

A cloth face covering is a material you wear that covers the nose and mouth.

Wearing a cloth face covering in public may reduce the spread of coronavirus in the community. It may help to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets from people infected with coronavirus.

Cloth face coverings may help to stop people who are not aware they have the virus from spreading.

If you have coronavirus or have symptoms of coronavirus, you must self-isolate. Do this even if you wear a face covering.

When to wear one

Wear a cloth face covering:

  • when staying 2 metres apart from people is difficult - for example, in shops, shopping centres or public transport
  • when visiting anyone who is more at risk from coronavirus - such as people aged 70 or over or people who are medically vulnerable
  • in an enclosed indoor space with other people

What they are made from

Cloth face coverings are made from materials such as cotton or silk.

You can buy them or make them at home using items such as scarves, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

Who should not wear one

Cloth face coverings are not suitable for children under the age of 13 and anyone who:

  • has trouble breathing
  • is unconscious or incapacitated
  • is unable to remove it without help
  • has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the face covering

Do not criticise or judge people who are not able to wear a face covering.

How to wear one

A cloth face covering should cover the nose and go under the chin and:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include at least 2 layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction

How to wash one

Wash daily in a hot wash over 60 degrees with detergent.

If using a washing machine, you should be able to wash and machine dry it without damage or change to shape.

You do not need to sterilise cloth face coverings. Wash it in a washing machine or by hand as you would any other item of clothing.

Wash hands before and after use.

How to make one

To make a cloth face covering at home:

1. Cut two rectangles of tightly-woven cotton about 25cm x 15cm.

Image of two rectangles showing the size to cut the cloth - about 25cm x 15cm

2. Fold and stitch the top and bottom edges.

Where to fold and stitch the top and bottom edges - about 3cm from top and bottom

3. Fold and stitch the side edges, leaving a gap big enough to thread elastic through.

Where to leaving a gap big enough to thread elastic through

4. Thread two 15cm lengths of elastic through the side edges and tie tight. Hair ties or string, cut longer and tied behind the head, will work.

Position of the two 15cm lengths of elastic through the side edges

5. Tuck elastic knots inside the edges of the mask and stitch in place for a neater finish.

Image showing cloth face covering on a person's face

Read advice on making a cloth face covering.

Read U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice on homemade cloth face coverings.

When to throw it out

You should throw out a cloth face covering when it:

  • no longer covers the nose and mouth
  • has stretched out or damaged ties or straps
  • cannot stay on the face
  • has holes or tears in the fabric

How to use a cloth face covering properly


Clean your hands properly before you put it on.

Practice using it so you are comfortable putting it on and taking it off.

Make sure it is made from a fabric you are comfortable wearing.

Cover your mouth and nose with it and make sure there are no gaps between your cloth face covering.

Tie it securely.

Carry unused face coverings in a sealable clean waterproof bag, for example, a ziplock.

Carry a second similar type bag to put used face coverings in.


Do not touch a face covering while wearing it - if you do, clean your hands properly.

Do not use a wet or soiled face covering.

Do not share face coverings.

Do not lower your face coverings to speak, eat and smoke or vape - if you need to uncover your nose or mouth take the face covering off and put it in the bag for used face coverings.

Do not discard face coverings in public places.

Taking a cloth face covering off

To take a face covering off properly:

  • remove it from behind - do not touch the front of the mask
  • put in a sealable clean waterproof bag or wash immediately - put disposable masks in a bin straight away
  • clean your hands properly

Medical face masks

Medical face masks are for:

  • healthcare workers
  • people in self-isolation who cannot keep a distance of 2 metres between themselves and other people in their household

Some workers in specific jobs also use them. Medical masks are vital supplies. They are not intended for use by the general public unless you are in self-isolation and cannot keep a distance of 2 metres between you and other people in your household.

Wear a cloth face covering when shopping and on public transport. This will help to make sure that medical face masks are kept for those who really need them.

Disposable gloves

Do not wear disposable gloves instead of washing your hands. The virus gets on them in the same way it gets on your hands. Also, your hands can get contaminated when you take them off.

Disposable gloves are worn in medical settings. They are not as effective in daily life.

Wearing disposable gloves can give you a false sense of security.

You might:

  • sneeze or cough into the gloves - this creates a new surface for the virus to live on
  • contaminate yourself when taking off the gloves or touching surfaces
  • not wash your hands as often as you need to and touch your face with contaminated gloves

How to properly wash your hands and avoid infection

Related topics

Shopping safely during the coronavirus pandemic

How coronavirus is spread

Protect yourself and others from coronavirus