You have your new mask wardrobe – a mask that matches your outfits and mood. But how often should these masks be cleaned and what is the best way to clean them? And how often should you clean them?
Researchers don't know exactly how long the virus that causes COVID-19 will remain on the mask tissue. However, a study published in April found that the virus was still detectable on the outside of a surgical mask 7 days after exposure. Since we don't know for sure, experts say you should wash your mask after each use. And if you wear a mask that gets damp from exercise or exertion, replace it with a clean one as soon as possible.
Check your fabric
The way you wash your masks depends on the material used. The most popular handmade fabric masks are made from 100% cotton. These can be washed with your regular laundry, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use only the hottest water that is suitable for the fabric. Here's a tip: if you don't want the masks to get caught in the rest of your laundry as you go through the washer and dryer, put them in a laundry bag to keep them all together.
Some people like scented laundry detergents for their laundry, but when you have the masks right in front of your face the scent can be overwhelming. If so, it may be best to switch to a non-perfumed product for now.
If your masks have filters, see if they're disposable or washable – most are disposable.
Washing by hand
The CDC and Johns Hopkins Medicine have 2 options for hand washing masks if you prefer. The CDC recommends using a bleach appropriate for the fabric. Her cleaner recipe is 5 tablespoons of bleach for every gallon of room temperature water. If you want to make a smaller amount of the cleaner, you can use 4 teaspoons per liter of water.
Once your cleaner is done, soak your masks for about 5 minutes, then rinse them off thoroughly in cold water or room temperature water. Allow to dry thoroughly before wearing again. The CDC also suggests that you let the masks dry in direct sunlight when you aren't using a dryer and hang the masks when you can.
Johns Hopkins says you can also hand wash the masks in a sink or tub with hot, soapy water, scrub them for at least 20 seconds, and then tumble dry.
People with hearing impairments have a particularly difficult time wearing masks. People with residual hearing may not be able to tell what a masked person is saying. For others who read lips or rely on facial expressions to understand, the masks hide it. For this reason, clear masks – those with clear fields showing the lips – are becoming increasingly popular.
When buying a clear mask, check with the manufacturer for the best ways to clean it, including the plastic sheet. If you don't have instructions, you can still hand wash the masks and then wipe the plastic part with a cleaning solution.
Keep the masks clean on the go
When you are out and about, you may want to take your mask off when you are in a place where it is not necessary. The best way to protect yourself is to have specific pockets for each mask – not to slide into a pocket or your backpack. After removing your mask by using the ties or elastic bands, fold the mask inside out and place it in a clean plastic or paper bag. Do not touch the fabric as often as possible. And don't forget to wash your hands after handling them. If you need to use the mask again, remove it by the ties or elastic bands and wash your hands after putting it on.