Written by Grove Collaborative

Face masks basics

Last Updated: February 1, 2021

How to properly wear a face mask, clean a cloth face covering, transition to sustainable, eco-friendly mask options — and trick kids into enjoying keeping their faces covered.

Whether we like it or not, face masks have quickly become the newest accessory to our daily look. This integral layer of protection helps prevent the spread of coronavirus, influenza, and other infectious diseases by providing a barrier for respiratory droplets. Wearing one in public not only prevents your respiratory droplets from spreading to others, but it also keeps theirs from easily entering your nose and mouth. Masking up is an especially important added layer of protection for others, since you can unknowingly spread the virus even when you are asymptomatic (or not showing symptoms) yourself.

And while wearing a mask may seem fairly straightforward, there are some face covering pointers that even the saviest of maskers may not know — plus some sustainable (and cute!) alternatives to single-use face masks. Discover everything you need to know about selecting, wearing, and washing your face mask with this simple guide.

How to choose a face mask

Do a quick Google search, and you’ll likely spy a wide array of face mask options and styles for curbing the spread of COVID-19. While surgical N95 face masks are often touted by experts as the best form of protection from coronaviruses, they also remain in short(er) supply, and ensuring proper fit and use is often best reserved for the professionals. Disposable face masks, while convenient, can be harmful to the environment, and the cost of replacing them really adds up over time. Choosing a reusable and sustainable fabric face mask will cost slightly more upfront, but they're easy to clean and help keep disposable masks out of landfills.

As you shop for cloth face masks, consider what you’re putting up against your face. Make a natural choice by selecting a face mask made of natural materials, such as hemp or organic cotton instead of synthetic fibers. Choosing a mask with ear bands instead of tying straps can also make it easier to put on and take off. Finally, don’t be afraid to have fun with it. Choosing a face mask in vibrant florals or a fun pattern makes it a great accessory to your ensemble.

For that extra layer of protection, choose a mask with an opening in the design that allows for a filter. Filters are easy to change out and help provide an additional barrier.

How to wear a face mask

For a face mask to be effective, it must be worn properly. Make sure your face mask is always covering your nose, mouth, and chin. The straps should be tied behind your head or looped around your ears.

Respiratory droplets can enter and leave the nose and the mouth, so only covering one is basically like not wearing a mask at all. Covering the chin will help prevent respiratory droplets from coming under the face mask and entering your nose or mouth. For this same reason, it’s important to have a mask that fits your face properly. One that is too big will leave large gaps for bacteria to get in, and one that’s too small won’t cover the necessary areas effectively.

When it’s time to remove your face mask, wash your hands, untie the strings or grab the mask by the bands, and remove the mask. Fold the outside corners together and store your mask. Make sure to use hand sanitizer or wash your hands again after handling your worn mask.

Wash your hands

Before you reach for your face mask, take a second to wash or use hand sanitizer to thoroughly clean your hands.

Hold the bands or straps

As you reach for your mask and put it on your face, take care to touch the bands and straps only to avoid transferring any bacteria to the fabric.

Check for proper coverage

Make sure your mask is covering your nose, mouth and chin to ensure maximum protection. If there is a metal nose clip, pinch it gently for a snug fit.

Check for comfortable breathing

With your mask in place, take a deep breath to make sure everything fits comfortably and no adjustments are needed before touching other items.

When to wear a face mask

It’s always a good idea to maintain at least six feet of distance between you and another person (regional guidelines may differ), but that’s not always an option. When you are out in public and can’t maintain the proper social distance, protect both yourself and others by wearing your face mask. This includes any time you’re shopping in a store, entering an office, or interacting with others outside your immediate family. And effective February 2, 2021, masks are required on major forms of public transportation, including planes, buses, and trains.

According to the CDC, the exception to this rule is children under the age of two, as they are too young to wear a mask safely. Anyone with breathing problems should also consider whether wearing a mask is safe for them and consult the CDC's recommendations for mask adaptations and alternatives.

How to clean and disinfect your face mask

Cloth face masks are reusable, but they do require regular cleaning. Fortunately, cleaning your face mask is as easy as washing your usual laundry. Simply throw your face mask in with your daily load of laundry, using the highest water temperature and drying temperature suitable for the fabric — some face masks suggest air drying, depending on the material.

The CDC recommends washing your mask after each wearing. If daily laundry isn’t your thing, consider purchasing a few different face masks for everyone in your household to go two or three days between trips to the laundry room. Wash all your face masks at once, and you’ll be good to go for the next couple of days. (Just remember to keep one out to wear if you do your laundry in a communal or shared space!)

Machine wash

Cloth face coverings are designed for ease of care. Include them in a regular load of laundry, washing them with your standard laundry detergent on the appropriate settings for the fabric (usually found on the label).

Hand wash

To clean your mask by hand, add soap or laundry detergent to room-temperature water. Soak the mask for five minutes, and rinse thoroughly with clean, cold or room-temperature water.


Dry your mask in the dryer according to the fabric instructions, or line-dry your mask in direct sunlight, making sure to wash your hands before hanging it up. If you can't hang in direct sunlight, hang or lay flat until completely dry.

Tips on how to get kids to wear face masks

Wearing face masks in public and at school is a reality for kids, too. Give them more ownership over their face mask and encourage them to wear it more by letting them be involved in the selection process.

If the children are young, it’s a good idea to manage their masks for them. Keep your child’s mask with you, and assist them with putting it on and remembering to put it in the laundry. Teach older children how to wear their masks, and let them choose a style that aligns with their sense of fashion. Teaching them the importance of wearing a mask is really just like teaching them the importance of wearing a helmet before hopping on a bike.

Grove Tip

Show it off!

If your kiddo loves to show off their artistic side, take it a step farther by allowing them to add iron-on patches or even draw on their face mask using fabric markers.

Other ways to stay safe during COVID-19

Face masks aren’t the only way to help protect yourself and others from the spread of disease. It’s also important to:

Wash your hands frequently

Our hands touch everything and pick up germs along the way. Wash your hands frequently with hand soap, and make sure to keep hand sanitizer with you on the go. Whip it out any time you touch a door or shopping cart.

Stop touching your face

We all do it — we just aren’t aware of it. Make a conscious effort to keep your hands away from your face, especially the nose and mouth areas. Nail-biters beware, this is the time to paint those nails and let them grow.

Be a homebody

This is a great time to get back to your favorite home hobby and catch up with friends over FaceTime. Whenever possible, stay home and avoid public settings. When you do have to run errands, consider going at less-popular times of the day.

Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered. From timely topics such as our handwashing and hand sanitizer breakdown to evergreen primers like our simple ways to reduce your plastic use at home, our handy guides are here to answer your most pressing questions. And let us know how if you have any cleaning questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you're ready to take on germs, shop Grove Collaborative's cleaning essentials for the cleaning tools to tackle the job.

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