Safety & Care Instructions for Reusable Cloth Face Masks

Though there are no universal instructions for reusable cloth face masks, we have compiled information from various references about their intended use and proper wear & care.  Please also be sure to read through our safety disclaimer.

For partners distributing SFMP masks in person (food drives or other locations) -- please see safety instructions in English and Spanish


What is COVID-19?

  • Coronaviruses are a common family of viruses that can infect both humans and animals

  • SARS-CoV-2 is a newly identified virus that is responsible for COVID-19 respiratory disease

  • SARS-CoV-2 stands for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” virus

  • Symptoms can range from mild to severe.   For more information, please see the CDC Factsheet.


How a face mask may help:

  • A virus can spread via person to person and via contaminated surfaces

  • Person to person spread:

    • A mask may help decrease transmission of respiratory droplets. You spread these when you sneeze, cough, speak, and exhale.

    • Your mask helps prevent you from transmitting droplets to others, and others' masks from transmitting droplets to you.

    • Homemade masks do not filter aerosolized particles for the wearer.

  • Wearing a mask may also serve to discourage touching one’s face.

  • A handmade face mask is currently recommended for community members in order to preserve disposable medical grade PPE for high-risk and clinical settings. 

  • A handmade reusable cloth mask is NOT a replacement for proper protective personal equipment (PPE) in high-risk or clinical settings.

  • Since individuals may be contagious prior to experiencing any symptoms, with some never developing any noticeable symptoms, community spread may be reduced by everyone wearing a face mask when in public.  If you feel healthy, wear a mask. If you feel sick, stay home.


  • We recommend that each individual have at least 2 masks. Depending on your routine and habits, you may want to have a larger set.

  • Fabric masks are reusable, but each person should have their own designated mask

  • Children under 2 years old: face masks should NOT be used

  • Children ages 2 and up: supervise at all times when they are wearing a mask 

  • People that should not wear a mask: anyone who has trouble breathing, is unable to remove a mask without assistance, or is unconscious.

  • Per CDC and PA State recommendations, wear a mask:

    • At all times outside of your home 

    • Inside your home if you are coughing or sneezing 

  • Face masks are not a substitute for continuing to maintain physical distancing, proper hand hygiene, and avoiding face contact — in combination with these intervention measures, face masks can help reduce community spread

  • Masks must be changed frequently

    • Each time you put on a mask, you must use a clean mask 

    • Decide on how many masks you need for yourself based off of how much you are outside your home

    • Masks must be changed:

      • After every use

      • Every four hours

      • After sneezing or significantly coughing in mask

      • If inside of mask becomes moist or wet 

  • Filters: At this time, there are no filter materials that we have determined to be safe. 

How to tie a face mask:

  •  Click here for a video showing how to tie a face mask (square face mask with loop tie)


  • As mentioned above, at this time, there are no confirmed sterilization guidelines for reusable cloth face masks. While our safety team continues reviewing the available research and guidance, you may reference the articles below.

  • Due to fire safety concerns, DO NOT use a microwave or oven to sterilize masks 

  • Some masks have a nose wire, which should be shaped to the bridge of the nose to provide an improved fit for further protection from droplet spread, and to reduce fogging of glasses.  If a mask has a channel that allows for the wire to be inserted, it should be removed prior to cleaning.

  • Popular Science Article:  best ways to clean fabric face masks.

  • Philadelphia Inquirer Article:  How to clean your face mask to help prevent getting and spreading the coronavirus.


Putting on a face mask


Wearing a face mask:


Removing a face mask:   

  • To remove a mask, use your fingers to only touch the ear loops or ties. Do not touch the main part of the mask. Pull it away from your face and place directly into a plastic bag or other designated storage container. Keep in a storage container labeled “dirty” until sterilized. 

  • Masks are never to be reused without washing (even if you only had it on for a short time period).

  • Wash your hands every time after handling your mask.


Do not wear a face mask that:

  • Doesn't fully cover both the nose and mouth

  • Has stretched out or damaged ties/straps that don't hold the mask in place

  • Does not stay on the face 

  • Has holes or tears in the fabric

PA Health Dept Guidance:

Pennsylvania Department of Health: Guidance on Homemade Masks During COVID-19

Pennsylvania Department of Health Help Stop the Spread: Wear A Mask in Public


CDC Guidance:

Please note that since the CDC guidelines are continuing to evolve rapidly in the setting of COVID-19, we recommend referencing them only in combination with other sources.

CDC: Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

CDC: Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission

CDC:  Cloth Face Coverings: Questions and Answers