Covid-19: How to make, wear and care for your cloth face mask



cloth face masks

It’s difficult to think that, not that long ago, we were told not to wear face masks as “they will not protect the wearer against Covid-19”.

Then, in the blink of an eye, facemasks become a vital - not to mention mandatory - item in our Covid-19 toolbox. 

But there’s a problem.

With the current global shortage of PPE such as masks in hospitals, the public is encouraged to wear cloth face masks as opposed to surgical masks and N95 respirator masks, as these must be reserved for our health care workers in the frontline of the pandemic.

If that is not a good enough reason to switch to fabric masks, price gouging has become a major problem during this pandemic, so this is what you can expect to pay for mass-produced PPE in South Africa -

A box of 50 3ply surgical face masks cost around R70 to R100 before Covid-19, now you’d be lucky to find a box for under R500.

N95 respirator masks are in a category of its own during this time. A box of 35 masks cost R100 before the outbreak but now, however, a box of 20 respirators can cost around R2000 to R3000 for a box of 20 – that is a staggering price increase within a short amount of time.

Cloth face masks, on the other hand, are affordable in that they can retail for as little as R10 each depending on the material used and the number of layers per mask.

But that isn’t the only reason why cloth masks are recommended to the public.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the main objective of a fabric face mask is to act as a physical barrier to extremely small droplets generally secreted while talking, sneezing or coughing.

They’re also widely available in different styles, colours, and materials which means you can choose what your mask will look like.

Respirators such as the N95 are notoriously difficult to breathe with, but cloth masks can be customised to suit your own needs as well as the level of comfort and breathability you need.

The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (Dtic) released a document that, among other things, outlines the following basic performance requirements a cloth mask must meet in order to protect its wearer.

The mask must:

  • be breathable
  • fit properly and be comfortable to wear.
  • follow closely the contours of the face (especially around the nose bridge and under the chin) to reduce leakage out and into the mask.
  • be easy to clean and disinfect
  • be durable and maintain its intended shape throughout the expected lifespan.
  • be made of at least two layers of fabric (double layer). Of course, the more layers a mask consists of, the better protected the user will be. 

Furthermore, the ideal face mask to use consists of three layers, made of non-woven (or similar) fabric, has a removable middle layer that provides a strong filtering capability, and accompanying inner and outer layers that provide comfort, structure, as well as additional protection.

The inside and outside of the mask must be clearly marked as such to avoid confusion.

Choosing the material

The inner layer must provide a smooth, soft, pleasant feel against the skin. Choose a fabric that is quick-drying and will not irritate the skin in any way or allow the build-up of moisture or excessive heat in between the skin and the mask.

The middle layer (filter) should not shed fibres or disintegrate with use to prevent fibre inhalation. It should not retain heat and must be easy to remove and disinfect.

The outer layer can be woven or made from a suitable nonwoven fabric. It should restrict water absorption as much as possible and be made up of a firmer fabric, preferably the same fabric as the inner layer.

Making your mask

The Department of Health has provided this 1-minute-long video to show you how to make your own DIY fabric facemask.

Watch the video -

Video: Department of Health

When to wear your mask

We know that wearing a facemask when in public is mandatory, but to clarify even further, the CDC recommends wearing a mask in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas with high rates of transmission among residents.

Keep the mask on at all times when out in public. Don’t remove the mask or lift it up to talk to someone or adjust the fit.

How to apply the mask

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Hold the rubber bands or ties while securing it to your face. Make sure it fits snugly but comfortably. 
  3. Avoid touching the inside of the mask.
  4. Avoid touching any part of the mask once applied. If you have no choice but to touch the mask
  5. wash your hands immediately afterwards or use hand sanitizer.
  6. Make sure the mask covers your nose and mouth.

When taking it off:

  1. First, wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer
  2. use the straps (rubber bands or ties) to unhook or untie the mask from your face
  3. avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes
  4. wash your hands immediately after removing the mask.

Taking care of your PPE

  1.  Do not place it in a pocket or bag for later use.
  2.  Place the mask into the washing machine so it’s clean the next time you need it.
  3. Hang the mask outside or in a ventilated area to dry.
  4. Depending on the material, be sure to iron your mask before placing it in a clean or new paper bag.

Tip: Be sure to have two masks in use to ensure that when one is being washed, you have another available when you need it


  • A cloth face mask isn’t safe for children younger than 2 years of age or anyone who’s experiencing trouble breathing, is unconscious, or otherwise incapacitated.
  • Children above the age of 2 years should be supervised at all times when wearing a mask.

Remember that a face mask does not replace physical distancing. You still need to maintain at least a 1.5 m distance between yourself and other people.

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