New guidelines for face masks in South Africa – what you need to know

National Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have published new guidelines for the use and production of cloth masks in South Africa.

In an explanatory summary, the DTI said that the fabric/cloth masks are part of a broader solution to curb the spread of Covid-19 and must always be used in combination with other hygienic methods of prevention.

It added that the design of the masks should be mindful of the ‘thermo-physiological properties’ of fabrics which, if wrongly chosen, can lead to problems like skin irritation, the build-up of heat or moisture, or the incubation of bacteria etc, and may cause wearers to take off masks in situations when they should otherwise be wearing them.

“There has been much debate globally about the use of face masks for non-Health Care Professionals (non-HCP) during the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

“There is agreement in the recommendations that symptomatic individuals and those in healthcare settings should use face masks.

“But discrepancies and mixed messages exist in relation to the wearing of masks by the general public. By refining some of the lessons from various sources, it is possible to arrive at a set of interim guidelines for the use of masks by the general public in South Africa.”

Basic requirements

The guidelines outline the following basic requirements for all cloth masks in South Africa:

  • The objective of a fabric face mask is to act as a physical barrier to extremely small droplets generally upwards of 5 microns in size secreted during talking, sneezing or coughing. The higher the performance of the mask with regard to barrier efficiency the better;
  • Masks must be breathable. Should the mask prevent one from breathing easily, this will present a serious danger to the health of the wearer – not only from becoming oxygen-deprived but also because the mask will promote risky behaviour like the need to touch the face and remove or adjust the mask during wear, increasing the risk of transmission of the virus;
  • Masks must be designed to fit properly and be comfortable to wear. Mask style and design features will contribute to user fit which should follow closely the contours of the face especially around the nose bridge and under the chin to reduce leakage out and into the mask;
  • Mask style and design features will contribute to user fit which should follow closely the contours of the face especially around the nose bridge and under the chin to reduce leakage out and into the mask;
  • Cleaning and disinfection of all the components should be easy to carry out at home;
  • All components should be durable and should maintain their integrity during the full expected life span of the product or components;
  • All masks should be accompanied by instructions clearly explaining how it should be worn and cared for what the limitations of a mask are and when the mask or its components must be replaced.

Fabric and design

  • Tests have shown that at least two layers of fabric is are sufficient for balancing performance and comfort;
  • Using three layers, selecting a non-woven (or similar) fabric with strong filtering capability (barrier efficiency) as the middle layer (with the accompanying inner and outer layers providing comfort, structure, and some additional protection) is recommended;
  • Ideally, this middle layer (filter) should be inserted into the mask (or removed) via an ‘envelope’ style design to allow for improved cleaning and easy replacement filters when worn out;
  • It is recommended that the pocket into which it fits be at least 120 mm by 100 mm to ensure compatibility between multiple masks and filters in production domestically;
  • Clear markings or design options must be used to distinguish between the outside of the mask and the inside of the mask;
  • The ties or elastics used to fit the mask to the face should not be designed to require that the wearer touches the front of the mask at all;
  • Masks must be designed to fit properly, ideally covering at least 50% of the length of the nose and fit to 25mm under the chin.


The guidelines state that clear instructions should be provided to consumers about the capabilities and limitations of masks:

  • At the very least guidance should be given that when re-usable fabric masks are worn, they do not constitute medical PPE nor are they a replacement for normal precautionary hygienic measures such as handwashing, not touching one’s face, coughing or sneezing into a tissue or elbow and keeping a proper social distance of 1.5 metres from other people;
  • The wearer should ensure the masks have been appropriately washed and disinfected before use;
  •  Clear instructions must be provided around the proper protocol for wearing masks, including at a minimum that wearers should avoid touching the mask during use and that when putting on or taking off the mask, one’s hands must have been cleansed after practicing appropriate hand hygiene;
  • That re-usable masks or the components used within the masks may need to be replaced if they are damaged or worn out, or if they have exceeded their lifespans or use;
  • Children should be supervised at all times when using a cloth mask, and they are not recommended for infants who may struggle to breathe with a mask or even choke if they put parts in their mouths;
  • A user-guide must be supplied with a mask on how to wear and how to care for it;
  •  A fabric face masks should generally not to be used by health workers, working in a health care environment.

You can read the full guidelines below:

Mask Guidelines by BusinessTech on Scribd

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New guidelines for face masks in South Africa – what you need to know