A study of fabric masks in a hospital setting found that surgical masks performed better than fabric masks in preventing respiratory infection. This study also found that use of fabric masks resulted in higher risk of infection than ‘standard practice’. This result has been widely misinterpreted to mean fabric masks increase the risk of infection compared with not wearing a mask at all. This is incorrect because wearing fabric masks was compared to ‘standard practice’ which, in the study settings, included mask wearing in certain scenarios. Even so, fabric mask use is not recommended for healthcare settings.
However, proper mask use and hygiene is important. If masks are improperly used (touched during wear without proper hand hygiene, continued wear after becoming damp or soiled), there is a potential for self-contamination. Please see the section on hygienic mask use for further information.
Want to learn more about mask use for interrupting the spread of COVID-19?
- How could wearing a mask reduce COVID-19 transmission?
- What types of masks are there and what are they designed to do?
- What is a N95 respirator and who should use one?
- What is a surgical mask and who should use one?
- What is a fabric mask, who should use one, and how should they be made?
- What should be considered when making fabric masks?
- Hygienic use of fabric face masks
- What is an occupational mask and who should wear one?
- Why doesn’t the WHO recommend that everyone wears face masks in all settings?
- What do we know about the effectiveness of masks to prevent and COVID-19 transmission in community settings?
- What can modelling studies tell us about the effectiveness of wearing masks?
- How well do masks work under laboratory (experimental) conditions?
- Do homemade masks increase the risk of respiratory disease?
- How might an evolving understanding of virus transmission affect mask recommendations?
- Should hygiene promotion staff wear masks to protect themselves and others?