How to Determine the Best Height for a Sneeze Guard

A seemingly simple question such as “how high does a sneeze guard have to be” can get complicated quickly.


First of all, sneezes are complex. An oft-cited study by MIT researchers shows sneezing works a lot like flicking paint off a paintbrush at 100 mph—long mucus filaments eventually break up into smaller and smaller droplets the farther away from the source they get. Some of the larger droplets follow a trajectory that takes them to the ground relatively quickly (and by relatively, the researchers mean three meters, or about nine feet). Others travel suspended in a gas cloud that extends their ability to stay airborne several meters from the sneezer. Ambient temperature plays a role, too; changing the buoyancy from summer to winter indoor conditions can increase the distance they travel from a few meters (for larger droplets) to dozens of meters (for the smallest droplets). Air currents can resuspend falling droplets, and increases in vertical momentum can boost droplets to the ceiling and into the ventilation system. For coughs, it’s much the same.


While a sneeze guard cannot stop the dispersal of airborne droplets altogether, they can limit direct contact with pathogen-bearing droplets by providing a physical barrier between the person sneezing or coughing and other people in the general vicinity. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the installation of physical barriers, such as clear sneeze guards, when feasible as a protective measure for businesses, workplaces and other spaces where people gather.

Calculating height

So, back to the initial question: how high does a sneeze guard have to be?

There is no industry standard, so take a practical approach. Essentially, imagine yourself in everyday business or workplace situations and plan from there, keeping in mind the trajectories and distances touched on above as well as the height of a typical customer or client. Today, the average height of a woman in the U.S. is 5’4”. Men average 5’9”. But those are just averages. Kids’ heights are all over the place. And retailers who focus on an atypical customer—for example, a big and tall clothing store, a basketball sporting goods outlet or indoor recreation for children—will have a different set of circumstances to deal with. Not only will their target audience be relatively taller or shorter, they’ll be coming to the store or business with other people, who may be quite average. Both have to be accommodated.


Also consider that when a person sneezes or coughs, they may be looking right at you—or they may look down, up or turn their head to the side. The height of a barrier should accommodate the tilt of a head should someone forget to cover their nose and mouth. And that distance calculation? In the U.S., most people prefer to stand about 3 feet apart when they’re talking to a stranger and a bit less than 2½ feet away from an acquaintance (and not socially distanced by the recommended 6 feet). However, if your customers or clients are from elsewhere, those personal space expectations can be very different. And regardless, women and older people tend to prefer more distance than men.


Choosing the right shape

Height considerations aside, here are a few more things to think about when you’re choosing sneeze guards for your business or workplace. There are several types of sneeze guards to choose from, and shape matters as much as height does.


  • Will people be facing each other? – If so, a flat barrier will suffice. lt can be suspended from the ceiling or sit atop a desk, counter or table.
  • Will people be turning left and right to talk to people on either side of them? – Conversational seating configurations call for X-, T- or U-shaped barriers that enable the free flow of dialogue while still protecting the participants.
  • What type of transactions need to take place from one side of the barrier to the other? – Sneeze guards are designed with a variety of pass-through options, or you can choose a suspended version and hang it in such a way that you have adequate space beneath it to do what you need to do (exchange paperwork, pass products back and forth, utilize POS terminals, etc.).
  • Does the sneeze guard need to be transportable from place to place? – Some sneeze guards are designed to be anchored in place, while others have hinged “wings” that enable you to stand them atop a surface then fold them up and carry them away when you’re done. They, too, are designed with pass-through options.
  • Will you be using a freestanding barrier? – Freestanding barriers have to be anchored or stabilized, which can take up space to the front or sides of the barrier itself, impacting the flow of foot traffic.
  • Do you need to attach a partition to an existing divider to make it taller? – This is common in restrooms between urinals or sinks. Many height-extending barriers can be attached using Velcro-type fastener strips or, when you want a more permanent solution, using screws.

A word about cleaning

For obvious reasons, you’ll want to clean your sneeze guard regularly. Well, you might not want to (the ick factor), but you have to.

Generally speaking, most sneeze guards are manufactured using acrylic (also known as plexiglass) or polycarbonate. Acrylic is stiffer and more scratch-resistant than polycarbonate, but both require a careful approach to cleaning. Using a paper towel or dry cloth to wipe them clean will damage them (and scratches are great places for germs to hide) as will excessive scrubbing and many common household cleaning products such as window cleaners and ammonia mixtures. Best bet—a light touch with a soft microfiber cloth that you don’t clean anything else with, using water and mild dish soap. If you want more disinfecting power, choose cleaning wipes with at least 70% alcohol (isopropyl or ethyl), hydrogen peroxide, bleach other disinfectant approved for use on acrylic (read the label carefully).


Face-to face-interactions are essential to any retailer that doesn’t operate entirely online. Most services businesses, too, require in-person conversations or transactions that simply can’t be done as effectively, if at all, online or over the phone. Sneeze guards can go a long way in protecting your customers and your employees. shopPOPdisplays offers one of the largest selections of high-quality acrylic and polycarbonate sneeze guards, retail barriers and plexiglass shields, and all our products are designed by craftsmen to exacting standards for clarity, strength and usability.


If you don’t find what you need for your business or workspace in our catalog, we’ll create it for you in any shape or size, in small or large quantities. We’ve been doing this for more than 40 years, and our designers, engineers and craftsmen are the best in the industry. They’ll make sure your order is done right, with attention to detail, modern manufacturing processes and precision technologies.

All shopPOPdisplays standard sneeze guards, barriers and shields are made in the U.S.A., in stock and ship in 1-2 business days directly from our New Jersey warehouse. Volume (quantity) discounts are available.