Level up your facemask


Updated 5/31/23

KN95 respirator

Take the following steps to prevent airborne particles from getting in and respiratory droplets from leaking out of your facemask.

1.  Choose a mask that offers a higher level of protection.

An N95, KN95/KF94, or surgical mask (in decreasing order of protection) all offer a higher level of protection than a cloth face covering alone.

2.  Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face. 

Gaps can let air leak in and out around the edges of the mask.

mask brace
Mask brace. Source: cdc.gov

  • Use toggles or a knotting and tucking technique with medical/surgical masks to ensure a good fit.
  • Using a mask fitter or brace over a disposable medical/surgical mask or a cloth mask can help prevent air from leaking around the edges of the mask.
  • Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask. Make sure no air is flowing near your eyes or from the sides of the mask. If the mask has a good fit, you may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.

3. Double mask (add layers). 

surgical mask with knots
Knotting and tucking technique. Source: npr.org

You can wear a disposable surgical mask underneath a cloth mask but do not combine two disposable masks. The cloth mask should push the edges of the disposable mask against your face.

  • KN95/N95 masks should not be layered with other masks (with some exceptions in healthcare facilities).
  • If you wear a cloth mask alone, it is best to wear it in less crowded setting. It should have at least two layers, a nose brace, and be made of tightly woven fabrics.

4.  Other considerations: Certain types of facial hair, such as beards, can make mask fitting difficult. People with beards can do one or more of the following:

  • Shave their beards.           
  • Trim their beards close to the face.
  • Use a mask fitter or brace.
  • Wear one disposable medical/surgical mask underneath a cloth mask with multiple layers of fabric. The cloth mask on the outside should push the edges of the disposable mask snugly against the face and beard.

For additional guidance, visit the CDC website and read the Public Health – Seattle & King County article Up your mask game.


N95, KN95, and surgical masks are available for University units to purchase from the Clean and Safe Storefront until 6/30/23. Medical grade N95s should be prioritized for health care settings and work activities that require them. Masks are also available at no cost at select locations on campus.

Beware of purchasing counterfeit products. Project N95 aims to help people find a credible source for buying N95 and KN95 masks. 

Some work activities and settings require the use of surgical masks and N95 respirators.

University employees who are required to wear an N95 or KN95 facemask are required to be medically cleared, trained, and fit tested in accordance with Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) regulations. 

UW employees who voluntarily wear respirators must receive Advisory Information for Employees Who Voluntarily Use Respirators.

More information

COVID-19 hasn’t gone away; continuing to utilize multiple layers of protection is still beneficial. Getting vaccinated and boosted is the most important layer to help prevent severe illness and reducing the potential for transmission. Getting tested and staying home if you are sick or symptomatic, practicing good hygiene, and wearing a mask are also very important ways to protect yourself and others.

Visit the Face Covering Policy page for more information.

UW Medicine medical facility personnel and other health care personnel should follow UW Medicine PPE and face covering policies.