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How to Wash & Disinfect
Your Face Mask Safely

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January 28, 2021

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The pandemic has changed all our lives in countless ways, but chief among them is how many of us now wear masks. Whether we’re out in public or inside, masks have become a staple of our outfits; until the pandemic is under control, masks will continue to be a part of daily life. And because they’re often in short supply, it’s become critical to wash our cloth face masks after we use them.

Before we get into how to wash masks, we want to reiterate some of the ways you can stay safe during this time. We know you’ve heard it before, but the consequences of being uninformed are serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations, here’s what you need to know about face masks and their effectiveness in fighting disease:

  • COVID-19 is most often transmitted by respiratory droplets generated when people cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe.
  • Wearing face masks minimizes the spread of the virus.
  • Anyone over the age of two should wear masks in public places and when they’re around people outside their household.
  • Wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing and hand washing.
  • Don’t touch your face mask when you’re wearing it.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds before and after touching your face mask.

The combination of wearing a mask, keeping your distance, and washing your hands creates the best defense against COVID-19. For optimal protection using face coverings, knowing how to wash masks is a critical skill.

How often should you wash your reusable face mask? When you wash your hands after touching your face mask, also clean and disinfect it. If that seems like a lot of mask washing, consider the alternative. Keep reading to find out more about the best face masks, the proper way to wear them, and how to keep them clean and disinfected.

How to Wash Masks

We get it. It would be great if there were more than enough surgical masks for everyone, but there’s hardly enough for the front-line workers. While medical-grade face masks should ideally be reserved for healthcare workers and others with increased exposure, there are also circumstances when non-essential workers wear these types of masks.

Medical face masks like the N95 and disposable surgical masks are designed to be used once. But because of shortages, some professional health facilities are disinfecting single-use masks using UVC germicidal irradiation or other disinfecting processes. So, can you wash surgical masks?

Unless you have access to germicidal irradiation, the answer is “no.” Medical masks are meant for health care, are in short supply, and they’re impractical to boot. So save the N95s and other medical-grade masks for those who need extra protection. Choose face masks that are readily available, designed for everyday wear, and easy to wash and disinfect.

And just because you don’t have the most technically advanced face mask doesn’t have to mean you are at greater risk for COVID-19. So which face covering should you choose?

The Best Non-Medical Face Masks (and The Worst)

You won’t get the advanced protection of surgical masks with over-the-counter face masks; the level of protection you do get will depend on the construction and fit of the mask. The good news is most cloth masks can be washed, disinfected, and reused.

Here are the face masks that don’t measure up and the ones that work:

Gaiters, bandanas, and similar fashion accessories

They may look more fashionable than face masks, but these types of face coverings have been found to be less effective against COVID-19. An effective mask has at least a double layer of washable, breathable fabric that inhibits the spread of potentially infected droplets. Bandana material is often too thin, even when doubled, to catch droplets and the bottom is open when worn. Gaiters, scarves, and mufflers are usually made from flexible, knit fabric, so even when they are pulled over your nose and mouth, the material’s weave is too loose to catch droplets effectively.

Face masks with one-way valves

It’s not uncommon to see some N95 masks and over-the-counter cloth masks with a one-way valve. These valves reduce the amount of moisture that gets trapped in your face mask and makes breathing much easier. That sounds like the best of both worlds—adequate protection and a more comfortable face mask wearing experience. But the respiration that valve so conveniently releases is unfiltered and could expel potentially infected droplets.

Disposable surgical masks

Disposable surgical face masks are widely available and protect healthcare workers from splashes, spray, and large-particle droplets in regular healthcare settings. A surgical mask is not as fitted as an N95s, but wearers tend to find them more comfortable. Unfortunately, while they are better than no mask at all, they aren’t washable or reusable. If possible, skip the convenience of disposables so healthcare workers can have access.

Two-ply face masks

These are the popular cloth masks you see online and in stores. They are typically outfitted with elastic loops to secure the mask to your ears and a wire insert to conform the mask to your nose. For coughing and sneezing, a double-layer face covering is better at reducing the droplet spread than single-ply face masks. Two-ply cloth masks can even be more effective than some disposable surgical masks. But if you want the best combination of convenience and protection, you’ll want a washable face mask with three layers.

Three-ply face masks

Three-ply face masks are the best non-medical face coverings for preventing the spread of COVID-19. These masks are made for everyday use and can be washed and reused as long as they are in good shape. Choose masks with three layers of protection and make sure they fit securely.

A face mask should cover your nose and mouth and extend as close to your ears as possible with no gaps. Bear in mind that even the most effective face mask is no good if you don’t wear it regularly. Make sure your mask is comfortable enough to wear for a day at a time, and you’re more likely to wear it.

How to Wash a Cloth Face Mask

Just because you know how to wash masks doesn’t mean it has to be a daily thing. Keep several face masks on hand and you should be set—as long as you keep your face masks clean. If you don’t wash your face masks often enough, you could do more harm than good. That’s because each time you touch your mask, wear it where you can’t social distance, or stick it up over the visor, it could become contaminated. If you don’t want to breathe or be exposed to bacteria, viruses, and even fungi, keep those masks clean!

Gather up your face masks and head to the laundry room. Take off removable parts such as filters and detachable ear bands and put the masks in a mesh laundry bag. When you’re washing face masks, you want to use the hottest water temperature setting (> 140° Fahrenheit). If your washer has a sanitizing cycle, that’s even better. Instead of using a detergent that contains disinfectant or bleach, skip the harsh chemicals and choose a safe, eco-friendly alternative: hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide has antibacterial and antiviral qualities and is more effective than white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and acetic acid. It’s also a mild bleaching agent that whitens and brightens fabric and is more environmentally responsible than chlorine bleach. When hydrogen peroxide is exposed to sunlight, it slowly breaks down to a biodegradable solution of water and oxygen. Use the same three percent solution of hydrogen peroxide you find in the first aid aisle.

Add a cup of hydrogen peroxide to the washer through an automatic bleach dispenser or pour it in as the washer fills. While it’s safe for whites and colors when mixed with water, hydrogen peroxide can remove color on dry fabric. If you wash your masks by hand, prepare a cleaning and disinfecting solution of five tablespoons per gallon of hot water. Let the face masks soak for at least five minutes, then rinse them thoroughly.

Are you planning to dry your face masks in your clothes dryer? Even on the highest heat setting, most dryers don’t get hot enough to disinfect. You can help the process with disinfectant dryer sheets or dryer sanitizers or go all-natural by drying the face masks in sunlight. Ultraviolet radiation can inactivate influenza viruses and other pathogens, and sunlight also kills bacteria.

Now that you know how to wash masks, you can learn about ways to keep your entire home clean and disinfected. Because The Maids is the only residential cleaning service to clean for health, we are uniquely qualified to help you enjoy a cleaner, healthier home. Find out how affordable housekeeping services can be when you get your free online estimate.

Infographic How to Wash & Disinfect Your Face Mask Safely

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