Cloth masks or surgical masks? Either way, you'll be wearing one for 'years to come'

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

Posted courtesy of ABC News

For more than a year, face masks have been a wardrobe staple for millions of Australians. With experts warning us to expect to wear one "for years to come", the question remains — cloth mask or surgical mask?

Posted 08 Sept 2021

Mandatory face masks have again become a wardrobe staple for millions of Queenslanders subject to stringent COVID-19 orders.

For the first time, masks must now be worn by all high school students and school staff in south-east Queensland.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has flagged mask rules could remain in place until Christmas, as health authorities try to stamp out further spread of the Delta strain.

Here's what you need to know about staying safe, hygienic and masked up.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

Surgical masks vs cloth masks

Queensland Health advises the best face mask to use is a single-use surgical mask.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr Paul Griffin said when it comes to choosing which mask to wear, "any mask is better than none".

"For use in the general community, we don't really mind which type of mask it is – they all provide sufficient protection to reduce the risk of infection," Dr Griffin said.

Smaller face masks have been ordered for younger children who opt to wear one.(

AAP: Darren England


He said masks should be used in conjunction with hand hygiene, social distancing and consistent COVID-19 testing.

"By itself it's not a perfect intervention so it doesn't stop 100 per cent of transmission, but it certainly goes a very long way to reducing it – probably in the order of around 50 per cent or maybe more," he said.

Queensland COVID-19 snapshot:

  • Confirmed cases so far: 1,991

  • Deaths: 7

  • Tests conducted: 4,101,241

  • Active cases: 17

Latest information from Queensland Health.

Dr Griffin said higher grade P2 or N95 masks were standard in hospital environments.

"They are really required if you're in close proximity to someone who's infected, like in a healthcare setting," he said.

"We don't think those are necessary in the community but do provide a little bit of extra protection."

Queensland Health said a scarf, snood or piece of fabric is not an acceptable alternative for a mask.

Can I re-wear my surgical mask?

Surgical masks are designed for single use.

Surgical masks take an estimated 450 years to break down.(

ABC News: Mark Leonardi


"So we don't want people to recycle those for days or weeks on end," Dr Griffin said.

"If they do get damaged or soiled or wet in any way, then how well they work will definitely be reduced so they should be discarded."

Clean Up Australia told the ABC surgical masks could take up to 450 years to break down in the environment.

How often should I wash my cloth mask?

Dr Griffin said the more often you wash your mask, the better.

"Every couple of days would be the minimum … because we don't want things to build up and make them pose a risk in themselves," he said.

Cloth masks should be cleaned in the washing machine or hand washed with soap and left to dry before being reused.

Queensland Health said the most effective cloth masks are made up of at least three layers.

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Is there a cure for COVID-19?

Is mask wearing here to stay?

The current round of COVID-19 restrictions in south-east Queensland is due to lift on Sunday August 22 – though masks could remain.

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Dr Griffin said people should expect to be wearing masks in some capacity "for years to come – it won't be weeks or months".

"Mask wearing is something we should all become accustomed to, for it to be an ingrained behaviour, so that even when the mandate lifts, if you're in an environment where you can't maintain social distancing, well then pop your mask on," he said.

"We just never know when this virus is going to pop back up.

"If we can be ahead of the curve … it'll certainly go a long way to reducing the chance of introducing the virus back into our community."

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