Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings guidance

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 23 Apr 2021 - see all updates

Explains where you need to wear a face covering and exemptions from wearing one.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings guidance
Wearing a face covering

Wearing a face covering

What a face covering is

A face covering can be a covering of any type, except a face shield, that covers the mouth and nose.

It is recommended that it be made of cloth or other textiles and should be two, and preferably three, layers thick and fit snugly while allowing you to breathe easily.

Religious face coverings that cover the mouth and the nose count as face coverings for these purposes.

Transparent face coverings which assist communication for those who rely on lip-reading and facial expressions can also be worn.

Face shields may be used, but only if they are worn in addition to a face covering underneath, as the evidence shows that they do not provide adequate protection on their own as they do not adequately cover the mouth, nose and chin.

There is no requirement for face coverings to meet specific levels of filtration efficiency and breathability.

In June 2020 the British Retail Consortium released a specification for Textile Barrier Face Coverings designed for both disposable and reusable face coverings. The specification sets out the design, performance and chemical requirements of coverings, as well as labelling instructions, but does not include tests for filtration efficiency. 

The British Standards Institute adopted the specification for “barrier masks”,  which is a kite mark standard and can be downloaded. Buying or selling a kite marked standard  provides consumers with confidence that their face covering provides some level of protection. There is no requirement for face coverings to meet any specific quality standards.

See a video on how to make your own face covering.

What a face mask is

A face mask is not the same as a face covering. A face mask is a surgical or medical grade mask, often worn with other personal protective equipment (PPE), that is used in health and social care situations. This is a link to the guide on masks and face coverings developed by the British Standards Institute.

How to wear and care for your face covering

The appropriate use, storage and cleaning or disposal of face coverings are essential to make them as effective as possible.

Face coverings should:

  • securely cover your mouth and nose and chin and
  • fit snugly so that there are no gaps for air to escape out the sides or bottom

You should:

  • wash and reuse your own face coverings rather than using single use face coverings
  • always wash or sanitise your hands before putting on or taking off a face covering and avoid touching your face when wearing one. If you do touch your face covering, wash or sanitise your hands immediately afterwards
  • replace your face coverings immediately with clean ones if they become wet or dirty
  • wash face coverings after every use - for example after a school day, or a trip to the supermarket. Although a face covering might not look dirty, it could have invisible germs on it
  • wash face coverings on the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60°C if using a washing machine
  • hand wash your face covering using detergent and warm to hot water and then iron it once dry to make sure all the germs are killed, if you do not have a washing machine

If you need to store your face covering, for example, in your pocket, try to use a washable bag or container so that you keep it as clean as possible.

Do not put your face covering down on surfaces as invisible germs could contaminate it.

Transparent face coverings are also available and they should be cleaned after every use. Follow the washing instructions provided with the product.

If you have coronavirus or live with someone who does, you need to take extra precautions before throwing away disposable face coverings. Double bag personal waste items that have been in contact with the person (including face covering or gloves), store the waste safely for 72 hours, then throw it in the bin.

If your face covering is not reusable, you should dispose of it safely in the general waste bin. Disposable face coverings and gloves cannot be recycled. More information on correct disposal of face coverings is available on the Zero Waste Scotland website as part of the wider Managing our Waste campaign. If possible, RSPCA encourage people to cut the straps of face covering before disposing of them to avoid the possibility of wildlife becoming trapped and distressed.

First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 23 Apr 2021 -