From Thursday, people in Victoria's coronavirus hot spots will have to wear face masks whenever they step outside or they will face a hefty fine.

But that does not mean they have to rush out and buy hundreds of disposable masks, or find a medical-grade covering.

Premier Daniel Andrews told residents that from 11.59pm on Wednesday anyone leaving their home for one of the four permitted reasons during the Melbourne lockdown would be required to cover their face to prevent the spread of coronavirus – or cop a $200 fine.

"I need to stress it need not be a hospital-grade mask, it can be one of the handmade masks like I was wearing when I came in today. It can be a scarf, it can be a homemade mask," Andrews said Sunday.


Experts have advised that cloth masks need a minimum of 2-3 layers to be most effective. And the official advice listed on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) in Victoria website also states "a scarf or bandanna does not offer the same amount of protection as well-fitted face masks".

So what is the difference between a face mask and a face covering – and is one more effective than the other?

Face masks versus face coverings

Put simply, a face mask is the term for medical-grade facial protection and anything else is classed as a facial covering. But in between you have cloth masks, which are more effective than a scarf or bandanna but not classed as a medical grade mask.

Face masks are used by healthcare workers and people fighting Covid-19 on the frontline and are to prevent contamination to the face and filter out 95 per cent of airborne particles. They are single-use only meaning they have to be disposed of after wearing.

Face coverings are made out of any non-medical-grade material, such as T-shirts and sweaters, and when worn properly can help reduce the risk of you transferring germs and viruses to others. They can also be washed and re-used.

What are the best cloth masks?

Early on in the pandemic, experts had argued medical grade masks were the most effective at preventing the virus spread – but this has recently changed.

Two independent studies provided evidence last week that universal facial coverings are an effective tool.

Cloth masks with at least two layers of fabric and a high thread count are most effective at preventing particle spread. Photo / Clear Collective; Instagram
Cloth masks with at least two layers of fabric and a high thread count are most effective at preventing particle spread. Photo / Clear Collective; Instagram

"Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus - particularly when used universally within a community setting," Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.


Australia had previously said face masks weren't necessary, but official advice has since changed following Melbourne's mask mandate which has seen The Federal Government throw its support behind masks. Currently they are not compulsory for all Australians.

Are some facial coverings better than others?

Despite growing evidence any face covering is better than no face covering, epidemiologist Dr Abrar Ahmad Chughtai from the University of New South Wales said there were notable details to look for that improve its effectiveness.

"Use two or three layers of fabric. Choose fabric with a high thread count – so a tighter weave, for instance, from a good-quality sheet is generally better than a fabric (mask) with a looser weave that you can clearly see light through," he wrote in a blog post.

"Fabrics made with more than one type of thread, for instance cotton – silk, cotton – chiffon, or cotton – flannel, may be good choices because they provide better filtration and are more comfortable to wear."

Can I make my own mask?

Yes, you absolutely can. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) in Victoria has shared a video from The Social Studio that lists how you can make your own. It shows you will need three layers of fabric to make the most effective cloth mask and will need to ensure it fits correctly.

Here's what you need to make a DIY mask:


Elastic material: If you don't have elastic bands, some household elastic items that you can use include rubber bands and hair ties. If you don't have these on hand, you can also use string or shoelaces.

Cotton fabric: The best is tightly woven cotton, these include T-shirt fabric, or high thread-count fabric from pillowcases or sheets.

Sewing material: These include scissors, needle and thread or a sewing machine.

Can't sew? Here's a handy hack

A video that shows how you can use a sock to create a face covering has gone viral as it's so easy to do – but again, for it to be most effective you will need multiple layers of fabric and to ensure it fits correctly.

When should I wash my mask?

A cloth mask should be washed each day after use. Re-using a cloth mask without washing is risky because it can become contaminated or may not be as effective in protecting you, DHHS states.