How & When to Wash Your Mask

As COVID-19 continues to infect greater numbers across the United States, the Center for Disease Control recommends that everyone wear a face mask in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Disposable masks made from non-woven fibers, KN95, and N95 masks cannot be safely cleaned at home. Exposure to excessive amounts of water and cleaning products will destroy the fibers and can damage the carbon filtration systems of N95 respirators. KN95 or N95 masks should be reserved for medical workers, but if you have one, know that they can be worn up to five times by the same person, according to the CDC. There are exceptions if the mask is used in certain medical procedures, damaged, or heavily soiled.

It is recommended to clean cloth masks after each use. It’s a good idea to have several masks on hand that can be rotated, so a clean one is always readily available.

Cloth masks can be machine-washed or hand-washed. When handling soiled masks, it’s a good idea to wear disposable gloves and keep the masks away from your face.

  1. If the mask has a pocket that holds a removable non-woven filter, remove the filter before washing the mask. If you are using a folded bandana or scarf that has detachable elastic ear bands, remove those as well.
  2. A mesh laundry bag is a great way to keep the masks from tangling if you’re machine-washing them with other clothes. The mesh bag can go directly from the washer to the dryer.
  3. Sort the masks by color. Do not wash colored masks with white masks or clothes unless you are certain that the fabric is colorfast.
  4. Set the water temperature on your washer to hot and the cycle to normal. If you choose to hand-wash masks, fill the sink with hot water.
  5. Use a heavy-duty detergent like Persil or Tide that contains enough enzymes to break down soil and sweat on the interior surface of the mask. When hand-washing, add about one teaspoon of detergent to the basin of water before adding the masks.
  6. Use warm or cool water to rinse the masks.
  7. Cloth masks should be dried on the highest heat cycle in an automatic dryer. If you do not have a dryer, place the masks on a drying rack in direct sunlight.
    When the masks are dry, store them in a covered container or bag until you’re ready to wear them.

If your mask is to delicate to be washed in a machine, then hand washing the mask using laundry detergent or soap. Rise thoroughly with clean water and then line dry the mask for at least a few hours or until it is completely dry.

Storing Your Mask

You can store your mask temporarily to reuse later. Remove your mask correctly and wash your hands after touching a used mask. Keep it in a dry, breathable bag (like a paper or mesh fabric bag) to keep it clean between uses. When reusing your mask, keep the same side facing out. If you are taking off your mask to eat or drink outside of your home, you can place it somewhere safe to keep it clean, such as your pocket, purse, or paper bag. Make sure to wash or sanitize your hands after removing your mask. After eating, put the mask back on with the same side facing out. Be sure to wash or sanitize your hands again after putting your mask back on.

About the author: Joe Fiorilli