Until 2020 I had never given a thought to taking care of face masks. But, at a reader’s suggestion, they’re the first topic of my 2021 blog posts! Many of us wonder how often we should clean our masks and whether they need special care. Can they be washed with clothing items? Do they need to be disinfected? When should I wash them? Thankfully, caring for masks is pretty straightforward.
How often should I clean my mask?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should wash your mask after every use. They don’t specify if “use” means wearing it all day at work or doing a curbside grocery pickup. They also say (elsewhere), “Wash your cloth mask whenever it gets dirty or at least daily.” Clearly there is some wiggle rooms in the directions! Experts elsewhere have weighed in, too, and the consensus is that you should wash a mask after wearing it for a day, or if it gets wet or dirty before that.
So, if you wear your mask to work all day, wash it afterwards; don’t wear it again before washing. If you wear a mask for a short while (for that curbside pickup or to walk the dog), store it safely (see below), and wash it after two or three quick wearings, unless it becomes moist or dirty before that.
Bottom line: Keep it clean. Your mask needs to be washed regularly to wash away any particles (from COVID-19 and other viruses, as well as bacteria). Having multiple masks lessens the burden of cleaning after every significant use.
How should I clean my mask?
Obviously, disposable (blue surgical) masks should be thrown away after each use.
To wash cloth masks:
- Wash in the washing machine using the warmest setting for the material. (If the mask has a washing label, follow those directions.) If the fabric can be washed with hot water, then go for it.
- You can wash your masks with your regular laundry load; there’s no need to wash them separately.
- Use regular detergent — if you’re sensitive to perfumes you may want to choose an unscented product.
- Remove any detachable parts (filters, ear bands) before laundering.
- If you like, you can place your mask in a mesh laundry bag to keep it from getting caught in other clothing.
- If your machine has a sanitize cycle, this is the time to take advantage of it.
- You can also hand wash your mask in the sink with regular soap or laundry detergent. Some experts recommend soaking in bleach (use color-safe bleach, or non-chlorine bleach, to prevent fading) for five minutes before handwashing. (Use 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.) Wash with the soapy water for about 30 seconds. Be sure to rinse the mask well.
- To dry your mask, put it in the dryer with your regular load of wash at a high setting (fabric permitting). Or hang it to dry. Hanging in the sunlight is ideal, because the sun’s ultraviolet light can kill pathogens. But you can also hang it on a rack indoors or lay it flat to dry, too. Make sure the mask is perfectly dry before using.
Can I just spray my mask with a disinfectant solution?
It’s not a good idea. The mask is going to be on your face, after all, and you’ll be breathing in the ingredients, which may be potentially harmful. Besides, it’s not going to do a thorough job of cleaning the fabric.
Can I clean my mask in the microwave?
Another not-so-great idea. There are directions online for cleaning masks in the oven, boiling water, instant pots, and microwaves. But none of these works as well (or are as safe) as good old soap and water.
What’s the best fabric for masks?
The best mask fabric is tightly woven, higher-grade cotton fabric (“quilter’s cotton,” for example). It makes sense — fabrics with looser weaves can let more particles through than those that are tightly woven. And unwoven fabrics (knits) tend to open up when they stretch. Most cotton fabrics can be washed with hot water and dried on high in the dryer, too, which is best.
If you’re making your own masks, it’s a good idea to wash and dry the fabric first, before cutting it out, to pre-shrink it.
What’s the right way to remove my mask?
- Wash your hands well before you take off your mask.
- Don’t touch the front of the mask or your face while removing the mask.
- Pull (or untie) the ear loops off your ears. (If there are double loops, undo the bottoms first.) Handle only the ear ties or loops.
- Fold the outside corners of the mask together.
- Wash your hands (yes, again!) before touching your face.
Can I do anything to keep my glasses from fogging up?
I’ve found that masks with nose wires work much better with glasses. They keep the fabric close to your face, so your breath doesn’t escape out the top to your glasses. (It’s the warm water vapor from your breath condensing on the surface of the lenses that causes them to get foggy.)
There are also anti-fog products you can spray on your lenses. Or you can create your own natural surfactant (film) by washing the lenses with soapy water (don’t rinse) and letting them air dry. I’ve tried the soap method with so-so results. The soapy film works, but it also sometimes leaves soap smudges on my lenses, which I don’t love. Be sure to give your glasses a good shake after applying the soapy water if you try this method!
Where should I store my mask?
- When you take off your mask, place it in a bag until you can wash it. If the mask is moist (from sweat, rain, makeup, etc.), place it in a sealed plastic bag and wash it soon so it doesn’t become moldy. If it’s dry, put it in a paper or mesh fabric bag. Or put it directly in the washing machine.
- If you take your mask off (while eating lunch at work or at a doctor’s visit, for example), place it in a disposable paper bag until you’re ready to put it back on.
- To store at home, find a dry place and fold the mask in half, so that the inside (the part that contacts your mouth) is protected.
- If you’re masking a family, consider having different prints for each family member and a designated storage area (labeled with names).
More mask-wearing tips
- It’s a good idea to have at least two masks, so you can always have a clean one on hand.
- To ensure a good fit, make sure your mask covers both your nose and mouth and is snug to your face.
- The mask should stay secure on your nose and under your chin without a lot of rearranging while it’s on. (It’s best not to touch your mask while you’re wearing it.)
- Never share a mask. Obviously.
- Remember to put your mask on again with the same side facing out. (If you take it off to eat, for example.)
When COVID first hit and I hadn’t yet had time to sew (or order) masks, I used bandanas to fold into masks. These directions are still handy in a pinch (your masks are all dirty or you need a quick mask for a child, for example).
There are many tutorials online for making your own mask. Some have inserts for filters, some have wires for fitting close to the nose, some have elastic ear loops, and some have fabric ties. Most of us have our favorite style and fit. (What’s comfy on one person won’t necessarily be on another, so there’s some trial and error involved!)
Masks for purchase
You’ll find every assortment of mask on Etsy (and elsewhere online and even in some local shops). Here’s where I’ve purchased masks online:
StylishUSACreations: My favorite floral mask comes from this seller. This mask is super comfortable and very pretty.
Artly Masks: I bought Christmas masks for the grandkids from this seller.
MyMPB: I bought Thanksgiving masks for the grandkids from this seller.
(Note: I’m an Etsy affiliate, which means that I’ll make a small commission on any Etsy products purchased through my links. (I’ll never link to anything I don’t love and truly recommend, promise!)
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