The New CDC-Approved Face Mask Hacks Are Surprisingly Easy

Key Takeaways

  • Knotting the ear loops where they attach to the mask’s edges and tucking in the excess material can improve mask fit and further reduce virus transmission.
  • Double masking also improves mask performance, but it may lead to obstructed breathing or cause one or both masks to move around.
  • The mask is not a good fit if it keeps slipping off when you talk or requires constant adjustment.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), improving the fit of surgical masks by wearing a cloth mask over it (or “double masking”) or knotting its ear loops and tucking in the extra material can more effectively reduce the transmission and exposure to SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

These modifications ensure that the mask is better fitted to the contours of the face. This maximizes protection by preventing leakage of air around the edges. However, double masking might not be the most convenient option for everyone.

How to Improve Mask Fit

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

"The best alternative is to just use a single, quality mask which fits you well," Richard A. Martinello, MD, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics specializing in infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut, tells Verywell.

To improve mask fit even further, it may be best to knot the loops of the mask and tuck in the extra material. The CDC cited the video instructions made by Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of infection prevention at the University of North Carolina Medical Center.

“This creates a snug fit over the mouth and the nose," Dushyantha T. Jayaweera MD, MRCOG (UK), FACP, infectious disease specialist at the University of Miami Health System, tells Verywell. "The idea is that the air we breathe must come through the mask and not from the sides. It is like some oxygen masks that are used in the hospital where the mask must fit well on the face to prevent air from entering from the sides.”

How Do You Know if Your Mask Fits?

CDC guidelines state that the mask must fit snugly against the face, otherwise air with respiratory droplets can pass through the gaps of the mask.

“Good fit is critical for masks to work well," Martinello says. "To check [the] fit, I recommend people assessing their mask when they are sitting at rest. When resting, they should be able to notice that their inhaled and exhaled air should be going through the filter material and not around the sides of the mask."

According to Neysa P. Ernst, RN, MSN, nurse manager in the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, here are some signs that your mask might not be a good fit:

  • It’s too tight and uncomfortable to wear.
  • It’s loose and there are gaps around the sides or at the top or bottom. For those with smaller facial profiles, this may be an issue.
  • When talking or moving, the mask keeps slipping off and refuses to stay in place.
  • Your eyeglasses fog, which means that the mask doesn’t fit securely over the nose because warm air can escape.

Double masking can be a problem if it leads to breathing discomfort or causes one or both of the masks to move around and require adjustment, Ernst tells Verywell, so it's important to choose the mask modification that works best for you.

“Make sure you buy masks that fit your face, not just any mask," Jayaweera says. "If it does not fit, please change it to a different one. If you have to often touch or adjust your mask, then it probably doesn’t fit you properly and you may need to find a different mask or make adjustments.”

What This Means For You

Your mask should fit snugly against your face without gaps, otherwise, you are not fully protecting yourself and others. The mask should be covering both your nose and mouth. By knotting the ear loops where they attach to the mask, you can further improve its fit and performance.

Other Modifications to Improve Mask Fit

Aside from double masking and doing the "knot and tuck" method, wearing mask fitters (or braces) or nylon stockings over the surgical mask can also prevent air from leaking around the edges, which potentially increases your protection by 90%.

Another study reported that fastening ear loops behind the head with a 3D-printed ear guard or a claw-type hair clip and doing the “3–rubber band method” improves fit and filtration efficiency as well. According to Jayaweera, scarves, ski masks, or balaclavas can be worn over the mask, but they must not be used as a substitute for a face mask altogether.

Among the effective mask modifications, knotting and tucking the surgical mask appears to be the most convenient as it requires no additional materials. However, keep in mind that masking shouldn't be your only protection against COVID-19.

You should continue wearing a mask when you are in public or with others who aren’t part of your immediate household, but it’s still important to practice physical distancing, wash your hands regularly, and avoid indoor gatherings, even if you’ve been vaccinated or have already recovered from COVID-19, Ernst says.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Brooks JT, Beezhold DH, Noti JD, Coyle JP, Derk RC, Blachere FM, et al. Maximizing fit for cloth and medical procedure masks to improve performance and reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission and exposure. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Improve how your mask protects you.

  3. Clapp PW, Sickbert-Bennett EE, Samet JM, Berntsen J, Zeman KL, Anderson DJ, et al. Evaluation of cloth masks and modified procedure masks as personal protective equipment for the public during the covid-19 pandemic. JAMA Internal Medicine. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.8168

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your guide to masks.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.