Face coverings: when and how to wear one

By law, you have to wear a face covering:

  • on public transport
  • in shops, shopping centres and other indoor settings, including cinemas and salons
  • in banks, posts offices and credit unions

You should also wear a face covering:

  • when staying 2 metres apart from people is difficult
  • in healthcare settings - this includes hospitals, GP surgeries, care settings, nursing homes and dental practices
  • when visiting anyone who is more at risk from COVID-19 (coronavirus) - such as people aged 70 or over or people who are medically vulnerable
  • in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy outdoor spaces where a lot of people gather

Some people should not or do not have to wear face coverings.

Read about who should not wear one.

If you wear a face covering, you should still follow the public health advice on protecting yourself and others. This includes social distancing and washing your hands properly and often.

How to properly wear a face covering

COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets that come from your nose and mouth. For example, when you cough, sneeze or talk loudly. It can also be spread by smaller particles (aerosols).

Wearing a face covering that covers your mouth and nose reduces the spread of these droplets and aerosols. It also helps stop the spread of the virus from people who may not know they have it.

Do

  • Clean your hands properly before you put it on and after you take it off.

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

  • Remove it from behind - do not touch the front of the mask.

  • Carry unused face coverings in a clean sealable waterproof bag such as a ziplock.

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

Don't

  • Do not touch your 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, smoke or vape. If you need to uncover your nose or mouth, take the face covering off and put it in a bag for used face coverings.

  • Do not throw away face coverings in public places. These could be contaminated and you risk infecting others.

  • Do not put single-use masks in a recycling bin. They cannot be recycled.

How to wear a face covering. Cover your nose and mouth.
How to properly wear a face covering

Glasses fogging up

If you wear glasses and a face covering, your glasses may fog up.

Cleaning your glasses makes them less likely to fog up.

A well-fitting face covering can also stop your glasses fogging up. It should fit tightly enough to not leave any gaps around your nose.

Place your glasses on top of the seal of the face covering to try to stop your breath reaching up to your glasses.

You may not be able to move your face covering up high enough to do this. If you can't, try sealing the face covering to your face at the gap under your glasses with a small piece of surgical tape.

Face coverings for people at higher risk of COVID-19

Wear a medical face mask instead of a cloth face covering if you are at higher risk of getting seriously ill if you get COVID-19.

A medical face mask is the blue disposable type of face mask. It's often sold in pharmacies and other shops and gives you better protection.

Also wear a medical face mask at home if you:

  • are in self-isolation
  • have tested positive for COVID-19 - you still need to stay in your room
  • are living with someone who has COVID-19
  • are caring for someone who has COVID-19

Read about the different types of face coverings, masks and visors

Who should not wear a face covering

You do not have to wear a face covering if you have an illness or impairment that would make wearing a face covering difficult.

Face coverings are not recommended for 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 them
  • needs to communicate with someone who has learning difficulties, is hard of hearing or deaf

Wearing a visor will give these people some protection. But cloth face coverings are a better way to protect yourself from COVID-19.

Read more about visors and face shields

Some workplaces or schools may ask for a medical certificate. But in general, you do not need to ask for a letter from a GP about your reason for not wearing a face covering.

Children and face coverings

Face coverings are not recommended for children under the age of 13 unless they are in secondary school.

Some children under 13 may choose to wear one. They may also be asked to wear one when attending a hospital clinic of GP surgery.

Storing face coverings

Store your face covering in a dry, breathable bag (like a paper or mesh fabric bag) to keep it clean between uses.

Washing face coverings

Wash your cloth face covering whenever it gets dirty or at least every day.

You do not need to sterilise face coverings. Wash them in a washing machine or by hand.

When to throw out a face covering

Throw out a reusable face covering if 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

Medical face masks should be thrown away after you wear them once. Do not wash or reuse them.

Last updated: 15 June 2021 9.00am