Why Two Face Masks Are Better Than One


With new, more contagious forms of COVID-19 spreading around the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people start doubling up on face masks, as wearing two face masks can offer greater protection than wearing one.

“This does not apply to medical workers who are already outfitted in personal protective equipment, but it does apply to those of us who are wearing cloth face coverings in public,” says Dennis Cunningham, M.D., medical director of infection control and prevention with Henry Ford Health. “While one cloth face covering is better than none, it’s a good idea to double up, especially if your mask is too big or is on the flimsy side.”

How To Double Mask

To be most effective, the two face masks you wear should be different—you should not layer two disposable masks, as they don’t fit tightly and won’t offer additional protection. Instead, the first mask you put on should be the most protective, such as a disposable, surgical filtered mask (not N95 respirators, those are for healthcare workers and should not be layered).

On top of that, you can “set” it with a tighter cloth covering. (3-ply cotton is best, says the CDC, as thinner fabrics can allow particles to seep through.) This two-layer system will help to ensure that there aren’t any gaps where air can easily escape.

Helpful Mask-Wearing Tips

The key idea behind wearing two masks is that maybe the one mask you have doesn’t fit as it should, or it’s made of a thinner fabric. If, however, you have one mask that is filtered, that is the proper thickness, that fits snuggly around your face, and is worn correctly, double masking may not be necessary.

The CDC found that exposure to potentially infectious aerosols decreases by about 95% when you are properly masked. Here are a few reminders to get the most protection out of your face mask, whether you wear one or two:

  • Make sure it completely covers your nose and mouth. Your face mask should extend to the bridge of your nose and below your chin. If it only covers your mouth, air will escape through your nose.
  • Clean it regularly. Surgical masks are one-time use masks, but cloth face coverings can be washed and reused over again. At the end of each use, throw in the washing machine before wearing again.
  • Make sure there aren’t any gaps. If your mask is too big, the CDC says to knot the ear loops together where they attach to the mask, and then tuck in and flatten the extra mask material under the edges.
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To learn more about safety precautions at our facilities, ways to get care at Henry Ford, or for details on our response to COVID-19, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dennis Cunningham, M.D., M.H.A., is the medical director of infection control and prevention for Henry Ford Health.  

Categories: FeelWell