Healthy living

Face masks

Wearing a face mask can help protect you and those around you from COVID-19, influenza and other respiratory viruses when used in combination with measures such as handwashing, physical distancing and getting vaccinated.

A well fitted face mask lowers your risk of spreading or catching respiratory viruses. Face masks can stop viruses spreading in the air when you talk, cough, sneeze or laugh. 

When to wear a face mask?

The use of face masks is not mandated in Western Australia. However, you may be required to wear a mask in high-risk settings such as hospitals, aged care and disability care facilities, or other medical facilities such as general practice. 

Wearing a face mask is recommended if you:

  • are at high risk of becoming seriously unwell with a respiratory infection or live with or care for someone at high risk of severe infection, including people with risk factors such as older age, weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions
  • are unable to physically distance from others 
  • are in a crowded, enclosed, or poorly ventilated space
  • are visiting or working in a high-risk settings such as a hospital, healthcare facility, or aged care or disability care facility.

If you have tested positive or think you have a respiratory virus such as COVID-19 or influenza, and cannot avoid being around other people (for example, to attend urgent medical care or treatment), then you must wear a face mask at all times.

Choosing a face mask

High-quality and well-fitted face masks can reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. Different types of masks provide different levels of protection. You should wear the most protective mask that fits well i.e. no air gaps on the side, covers your nose and fits under your chin, and is comfortable.

The following face masks are recommended in order of best to least protection:

Single-use N95 or P2 respirator masks

These are high filtering masks. If they fit correctly, they provide the best protection. Respirator masks with straps that go around the head are likely to fit better and give more protection than respirator masks with ear loops.

Single-use surgical or medical masks

These provide good protection when worn correctly, fitting snugly over your nose, mouth and chin. You may get a better fit by shortening the ear loops by tying a knot.

Reusable 3-layer cloth masks

These can provide protection if they are made of tightly woven fabric. To ensure adequate protection they should have at least three layers of fabric and be thoroughly washed after use every day.

Other face coverings

Face shields

Face shields are not a substitute for face masks, however if you are unable to wear a mask but would like to wear a face covering, you may find it easier to wear a face shield. 

Scarfs and bandanas 

A scarf or bandana is not recommended as they do not offer the same amount of protection as a well-fitted mask. Using a scarf is also an infection risk, because they are re-used.

How to use a face mask?

To use your face mask:

  • Wash or sanitise your hands before putting on the mask.
  • Adjust the mask so that there are no gaps on the side. The mask should fit comfortably and snugly cover your mouth, nose and chin.
  • Avoid touching the mask while it is on.
  • Replace the mask if it gets wet or dirty, or if the straps are stretched so that the mask no longer fits snugly against your face.
  • Do not allow the mask to hang around your neck or under your nose.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks. Dispose of single-use masks into a rubbish bin after use.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands after touching or removing the mask.
  • Never share your face mask with others.
How to put on and take off a face mask?
Children and face masks

Children should follow the same protective measures as adults especially if they have a respiratory infection or are at a higher risk of serious illness.

A child's mask should be specifically made for children in order to fit properly. Children aged 2 years or younger should not wear a mask, because it is a choking and suffocation risk.

A child with anxiety, sensory differences, or autism can find it difficult to wear a mask or even feel panicked when a mask is put on them.

Healthcare settings

Healthcare workers may be required to wear N95 and P2 respirators in certain circumstances.

Reusable fabric face masks are not recommended to be worn by healthcare workers.

Last reviewed: 12-06-2024

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.