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Do homemade cloth masks protect against the novel coronavirus?

CLAIM: Wearing a cloth face mask helps you avoid getting or spreading COVID-19.

MAYBE. Wearing a homemade mask made of fabric may help slow the spread of the virus, but there haven’t been enough studies to know for sure. It’s still important to keep your distance and wash your hands.

Health officials advise wearing a cloth mask when you're near other people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends covering your face in public when you may be close to other people.

  • The purpose of this recommendation is to try to keep people from spreading COVID-19 if they are infected but don’t have symptoms.
  • There are many ways to make cloth face coverings.
  • A good fit matters. Your mask should cover your mouth and most of your nose. It should be tight around your face but allow you to breathe comfortably.
  • Masks can collect germs. Wash your hands after removing your mask, and wash your mask often. Try to avoid touching or adjusting your mask while wearing it.

There is not much research on whether cloth masks are effective at preventing the spread of disease.

It is unclear whether a cloth mask can protect the wearer or people nearby from contact with virus particles.

  • Scientists don’t know the size of the virus particles that transmit the novel coronavirus, so it’s unclear which types of masks can stop infectious particles from getting through.
  • Very few studies have assessed the use of cloth masks in real-world settings.
  • Studies of influenza and other diseases suggest that, in general, wearing a mask probably doesn’t protect the wearer from getting infected, but it may help prevent the wearer from spreading disease.
  • Scientists are working to learn more about cloth masks and how to improve them.

Wearing a cloth mask is different from wearing a respirator.

Surgical and homemade cloth masks are mostly meant to protect others from the person wearing the mask. While they can stop liquids and large particles of viruses and other germs from getting on your face, smaller particles may get through the mask and be inhaled. Unlike homemade cloth masks, surgical masks have met requirements put in place by the Food and Drug Administration for particle filtration and resistance to fluids.

Respirators are different. They are designed to protect the wearer from inhaling infectious or harmful particles. Some respirators (such as N95 masks) filter the air you breathe. Other types provide their own air supply.

CDC does not recommend wearing surgical masks or respirators outside of health care settings. CDC advises the general public to wear homemade cloth masks in order to save medical-grade masks and respirators for health care workers and first responders.


It is important to keep your distance and wash your hands.

Whether or not you wear a cloth face mask, staying at least six feet away from others and washing your hands often are the most effective ways to prevent getting or spreading COVID-19.

Published on: May 5, 2020