Yep, you should be cleaning that mask on the reg!

Kelsey Ogletree
May 18, 2020
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The Centers for Disease Control officially recommended wearing face masks in public settings on April 3 to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. And according to results of a Gallup poll released May 13, more Americans are doing so: 36% of people report always wearing a mask in public when leaving their home over the past seven days, while 32% say they sometimes do.

News reports vary widely on how effective masks are in preventing the spread of the COVID-19, yet it goes without saying that if you're frequently donning a reusable mask (i.e., one made of a common fabric such as cotton, rather than a surgical mask) when venturing outside the house, you need to be cleaning it regularly to maximize its protection potential. Face coverings should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use, according to the CDC.

For those wearing one daily (such as to the grocery store), Sarah Allen, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician in South Carolina and founder of The Skin Clique, advises washing reusable face masks each evening by placing them in the washing machine. Wash using the hottest water temperature on a normal wash cycle to effectively sterilize masks.

If you're worried your mask won't hold up in your machine, place it in a mesh laundry bag meant for delicates (like these from Bed Bath & Beyond, $8)—or in a pinch, a pillow case secured with a hair tie—says Tonya Harris, an environmental toxin expert and founder of Slightly Greener.

You can also hand wash them with mild detergent, scrubbing under warm water to thoroughly lather the detergent. To dry, the CDC recommends using a hot dryer and storing your mask in a clean container or bag until its next use.

Following basic washing guidelines is effective in keeping your mask safe to wear again. "The coronavirus is considered relatively easy to kill on surfaces with regular soap and water because the fatty substances in soap and detergent break down the fatty lipid membrane of the virus," says Harris—the same reason hand washing is so effective.

While washing a mask each night is one way to help keep your mask sanitized, you should also be mindful of how you're handling it throughout the day, especially if you're taking it on and off while visiting multiple places outside your home. You should also be the only person touching your own face mask.

Getty / Rike_

Keane Veran, co-founder and CEO of OURA, a Los Angeles-based company that manufactures reusable antimicrobial medical-grade masks, says to always isolate your mask from other personal belongings to prevent cross-contamination. In fact, until you've washed it, you should assume that your mask's exterior has the virus on it, and always clean your hands immediately before putting it on and after touching or adjusting it, according to the CDC.

"We know that [wearing a mask] causes many to touch their face more in a day than they might otherwise do," says Dr. Allen. To minimize risk of contamination when removing a reusable mask, carefully remove the loops from your ears and be careful not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, she says. Also wash your hands immediately after removing it. "Remember, the portion of the mask that faces away from you, toward the outside world, is considered dirty and should not be touched," she adds.

Additionally, it's a smart idea to sanitize your mask throughout the day as you're taking it on and off. Aragona Giuseppe, M.D., a general practitioner and medical advisor at U.K.-based Prescription Doctor, advises doing this by spritzing antibacterial spray or using wipes or a cloth with hand sanitizer to wipe the mask down. "I'd recommend doing this as much as needed, depending on how often you use the mask and if you're in areas where exposure may be higher," she adds.

Want to stock up on a few extra masks to keep on-hand while your other ones are in the wash? We love this stylish set in gray or pink ($24, Anthropologie).