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Is double masking the best way to keep yourself safe from COVID-19?

Stack of face masks - double masking
Photo via Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: March 12, 2021

Face masks have gradually become a normal part of pandemic life. For nearly a year now, people in most countries around the world have added a face mask to their typical wardrobe because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some have even taken it a step further, adding a second mask to their get-up to ensure maximum protection. But does double masking actually provide extra protection against COVID-19? 

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, it does. He told NBC News that doubling up on face masks is likely “more effective” than wearing a single mask. The Centers for Disease Control has yet to add double masking to its list of recommended precautions, but the technique has apparently become common among hospital staff during the pandemic. 

In mid-February, the CDC released data that showed wearing two masks blocked more than 92% of potentially infectious particles (one mask blocks around 42%). If two people are double-masking, that percentage rises to 96.4%. Considering Fauci has said people might have to wear masks into 2022, getting used to double-masking might be a good idea.

Experts say double masking can “significantly boost your protection” against COVID-19, according to the AARP. Linsey Marr, an expert in virus transmission and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, compared a face mask to an “obstacle course for particles to get through.”

“Adding a second mask adds another obstacle course, increasing the chance that the particle will be trapped before it gets through to the other side,” she said. According to Marr, wearing a disposable mask under a tight-fitting cloth mask is the best option. This combination should block up to 90% of infectious particles, according to the AARP. 

As noted by Marr, the appearance of several variants of COVID-19 heightens the need for diligent mask-wearing. Double masking is a particularly good option for people with lower quality, or ill-fitting, masks. People with medical-grade masks are already getting better protection, but in the U.S., these are not widely available. 

Experts therefore advise that anyone who’s looking for additional protection should consider double masking. Disposable masks have their flaws—they often have large gaps at the sides that can let in viral particles—but they are widely available. Adding a cloth mask on top of a disposable one to improve the fit will help keep risk, even in crowded places, low. 

Adding another mask to your regular routine also could have a harmful impact on the environment that is already flooded with disposable face coverings.

Experts caution against adding more than two masks, however. Adding a third or fourth mask is likely to hinder your efforts, as it will make it more difficult to breathe and increase the likelihood that you will remove the mask(s) while in public.

Read more on coronavirus face coverings:

Sources: NBC News, ABC 13, AARP


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