Here’s How To Clean Your Cloth Face Mask

Photo: Getty Images.
The White House shared new recommendations from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention last week suggesting that every American wear a cloth face-covering over their nose and mouth when out in public. With the new recommendations for preventing the spread of coronavirus, however, come questions about how to care for, store, and clean cloth masks.
Just as important as wearing your mask is washing it regularly — "ideally after each use," says Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, an internal medicine physician and the founder of End Well. Studies indicate that the same type of virus that causes COVID-19 can stay on face masks for up to seven days, so being diligent about washing them is essential. The California Department of Public Health suggests having a bag or bin to keep cloth face coverings in until they can be laundered.
According to the CDC, masks can be washed the same way as any other clothing: in the washing machine. "Soap and water kills the virus so you wash them like you regularly wash clothes. It's a good idea to have a couple of masks so you have an opportunity to wash them," says Dr. Myiesha Taylor, an emergency medicine physician in South Lake, Texas. The CDPH recommends they be, "laundered with detergent and hot water and dried on a hot cycle."
Medical experts suggest avoiding touching your face and washing your hands immediately after removing the mask. (See, here for proper removal instructions.) Dr. Taylor advises taking off your clothing, along with your mask, when you get home from an errand to avoid transferring the virus to surfaces in your house. Since studies have shown coronavirus can live on surfaces for hours or days and can stay suspended in the air under the right conditions, it’s a good idea to change when you get inside.

Taylor says you should also try to make sure your mask fits properly; if you “have to constantly adjust it, it’s not effective.” Face coverings that don’t cover the mouth and nose fully, have stretched out or damaged straps, don’t stay on the face, or have holes in the fabric should be not be used.
“The cloth masks, it's important for people to realise, are not necessarily protective for the wearer,” says Taylor. “The virus can easily penetrate cloth masks. It’s more for you to keep your germs to yourself, whether you’re sick or asymptomatic.” Masks are meant to trap your own virus-laden respiratory droplets so they don't infect others, not necessarily to clean the air that you're breathing. Other doctors agree. "The best way to prevent infection is to stay at home," says Ungerleider.
The CDC advises the masks should be worn "in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain" (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), and does not recommend wearing medical-grade masks, as those are in short supply even for healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Since homemade masks that may help contain the spread of the virus for the general population mostly do not meet the effectiveness standards to be used in healthcare settings, it’s important to save the more protective ones for the first responders and healthcare providers.
Understanding that the masks don’t protect the wearer from inoculation is “important because you don't want people to get a false sense of safety,” says Taylor. She cautions against stopping other precautionary measures like handwashing and wearing gloves just because you’re wearing a mask: “If you understand the masks as for the protection of other people, you realise ‘I'm still at risk.’”

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