How to tell when it’s time to replace face mask


A vaccine is on its way, but we still have a long winter ahead battling the coronavirus, which means continuing to mask up. But now that we’re months into the pandemic, is it time to toss some of your most frequently worn cloth masks and replace them with new ones? Possibly, say medical experts.

“All masks can lose effectiveness over time,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician affiliated with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group in San Diego, California.

Here are five signs that it’s time to trade out your mask for a new one:

It’s Been Through Several Wash Cycles

If you don’t wash your reusable fabric mask daily and after every use, this can lead to a build-up of dirt debris on the mask which can make it less effective, Olulade says.

According to guidance from the World Health Organization, people should wash fabric masks with soap and hot water that’s at least 60 degrees at least once a day.

“A mask that has been washed repeatedly over time may also lose its effectiveness but more research is needed to quantify how long you should keep reusing a cloth mask,” Olulade says.

As a general rule, though, she says that if your mask begins to break down after several washes and becomes thinner and more worn, then you should err on the side of caution and change it.


There Are Holes Or It’s Frayed

The crossing of the fibers in your mask trap droplets so if there are any holes or wearing of the cloth, it will become less effective and needs to be replaced immediately, says Dr. Jay Woody, M.D., chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and a co-founder of Legacy ER & Urgent Care.

The Loops Lose Elasticity

You want your mask to fit snugly and stay close to your face, covering your nose and mouth. If the ear loops are stretched out of shape and do not hold the mask on correctly, you should replace the mask, says Dr. Leann Poston, M.D., a licensed physician and a contributor to This can happen when the mask is dried under high heat, she notes.

The Mask Isn’t Fitting Properly

In addition to losing elasticity, masks can stretch out of shape or shrink and no longer fit your face, Poston says. If your mask isn’t securely covering your nose and mouth, toss it.


The Mask Is Dirty

From makeup to food stains, if your mask is visibly soiled and washing doesn’t take out the stain, it’s time to replace your mask, Poston says. Not only is it not a good look, but it could also signal that the mask has been overused.

As for washing your mask, make sure you’re not making any of these common mistakes.

Do you have some masks you need to replace? There are so many cute ones out there now, from big retailers as well as Etsy shops and startups! You can even match your dog.

Cleaning & Organization, Health, Home, Tips & Advice

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About the Author
Brittany Anas
Hi, I'm Brittany Anas (pronounced like the spice, anise ... see, that wasn't too embarrassing to say, now was it?) My professional writing career started when I was in elementary school and my grandma paid me $1 for each story I wrote for her. I'm a former newspaper reporter, with more than a decade of experience Hula-hooping at planning meetings and covering just about every beat from higher-education to crime to science for the Boulder Daily Camera and The Denver Post. Now, I'm a freelance writer, specializing in travel, health, food and adventure.

I've contributed to publications including Men's Journal, Forbes, Women's Health, American Way, TripSavvy, Eat This, Not That!, Apartment Therapy, Denver Life Magazine, 5280, Livability, The Denver Post, Simplemost, USA Today Travel Tips, Make it Better, AAA publications, Reader's Digest, Discover Life and more.

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