How to Double Mask Correctly

an asian woman talking on the phone while wearing a pink cloth mask on top of a blue surgical mask

skaman 306 / getty images

Key Takeaways

  • Double masking can help to prevent the spread of Omicron—if done safely.
  • Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask blocks the transmission of cough particles 30% better than wearing either of those masks alone.
  • A second mask should not be worn over an N95. This can block the respirator and cause difficulty breathing.

With Omicron still surging, it’s important to double down on COVID-19 protection methods. In certain scenarios, this may involve double masking: wearing one mask on top of another.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should only double mask by wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask. The best types to use include a three-ply cloth mask and a three-ply disposable surgical mask.

In addition to providing multiple layers of protection, the cloth mask covers the gaps around the mouth and nose not covered snugly by a surgical mask, where respiratory droplets could escape. To prevent COVID-19 transmission, your masks should fit snugly against your skin or facial hair.

Wearing two masks allows for both higher filtration and better fit, Robert L. Quigley, MD, DPhil, senior vice president and global medical director of International SOS, told Verywell. “Adding more layers reduces your exposure to respiratory droplets, containing the virus, released from an infected individual who coughs in your space,” he said.

A study published by the CDC in February 2021 found that when worn on their own, cloth masks blocked 51% of cough particles and disposable masks block 56%. When worn together, the masks blocked over 85% of cough particles.

What Not to Do

The CDC advises against double masking with two disposable surgical masks. They are not designed to fit snugly against your face, and combining two wouldn’t help cover any gaps.

The CDC adds that you never wear another mask over a N95. This can block the respirator and make it difficult to breathe. An N95 is enough to protect you by itself.

Respirators like KN95s and N95 might also not be the right choice if you have a medical condition that makes breathing difficult.

“If you are someone who experiences trouble breathing, double masking may be a better alternative option,” Quigley said.

Testing the Fit of Your Masks

It’s a good idea to test your double masking method at home to ensure that the fit is right and that your breathing and vision aren’t affected.

Jyotsna Shah, PhD, president and laboratory director of testing company IGeneX, recommends a simple method of cupping your hands around your mouth and breathing with your masks on.

“If you feel any air escaping, tighten your nose bridge and ear loops, or find a better-fitting cloth mask,” Shah told Verywell.

Quigley similarly suggests a breathing test.

“If the mask pulls toward your face when taking a deep inhale, it is a proper fit,” he said. “Making sure that you can breathe clearly with a mask on can also help to ensure that your mask is fitting right. Difficulty breathing in a mask could cause movement, leaving gaps.”

What This Means For You

Aside from wearing an N95, the safest way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 is to wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask.

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.

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

  2. Brooks JT, Beezhold DH, Noti JD, et al. Maximizing fit for cloth and medical procedure masks to improve performance and reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission and exposure, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(7):254–257. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7007e1

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey
Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is a health and disability journalist. They serve as editor-in-chief of The Unwritten, a platform for the stories of disabled people. Their work features in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider.