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By now you know that you should be wearing a mask in public and maintaining six feet of social distance between you and others. But what do you do with your cloth mask after you take it off at home? Maintaining your cloth masks properly will make your masks more comfortable to wear and more effective in the battle against the coronavirus.
“There’s a reason we have multiple pairs of underwear — it’s to maintain good hygiene,” said Christopher Sulmonte, biocontainment unit project administrator at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in an interview with “Today.” “The same thinking applies to masks. If you have a couple that’s great. You can have one in the wash and a fresh one available.”
Here are some mistakes you could be making when you launder your masks and what you should be doing instead.
1. Not Washing After Each Wear
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing cloth masks “regularly,” the experts Wirecutter consulted recommended washing masks daily, especially if they’ve gotten wet or dirty.
When is a mask dirty? There are many possible ways a mask can become contaminated: for example, if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your mask.
“You have to decide when it’s likely to have gotten contaminated,” Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told “Today.”
You can reuse a mask for back-to-back errands, but it’s best to toss your cloth mask in the laundry basket at the end of each day or wash it to be worn again tomorrow.
2. Wearing A Mask That’s Wet From Breathing Or Exercising
If your mask gets significantly wet from sweat or your own respiratory droplets, swap it out for a dry one. Wet masks are harder to breathe through and can also be less effective at blocking pathogens.
Kids in particular are more likely to wet their masks by chewing on or licking them, so you might need to have several on hand for them even while running an errand if you don’t want them wearing a wet mask.
3. Not Cleaning It Correctly
Unless the washing instructions say otherwise, its best to wash your cloth masks on a warm setting. The most important thing, however, is to use laundry detergent or soap. We already know that soap and water are great at killing the coronavirus when it comes to washing your hands, and the same principle applies to your cloth masks. Just using water to wash your masks won’t kill lingering germs.
If care instructions for your masks allow, run them through the dryer or iron them to add another round of germ-killing action. Bonus: you’ll have nicely pressed and unwrinkled masks.
4. Not Air-Drying Masks In The Sun
If you don’t put your masks in the dryer, perhaps over worries about wires inside your masks or just for lack of a dryer, make sure to hang your masks to air dry for several hours, preferably in direct sunlight. The longer they hang in strong sunlight, the better, since pathogens die under UV light and over time.
5. Not Using A Mesh Laundry Bag
Keeping your family’s face masks separate from the rest of your laundry is mostly a matter of convenience. Mesh laundry bags can keep masks organized and straps from getting entangled and stretched out. If you’re really organized, get a laundry bag for each member of your household to make post-laundry sorting easy.
6. Reusing Filters
Any type of filter, whether homemade from gauze, coffee filters, paper towels or the like, or a purchased filter, such as a carbon filter, should not be used more than once. That’s because they capture germs, and you don’t want to continue carrying them around on your face after a day’s use.
7. Using Bleach Or Fabric Softener
While some recommend using bleach while washing masks, it might be best to err on the safe side and avoid it as you will be breathing directly through cloth that has been treated with bleach. That’s a harsh chemical to be breathing in, even in residual amounts. The same goes with fabric softener.
The CDC notes that if you do decide to use bleach for some extra germ-killing oomph, you might want to check the label. Some color-safe bleaches aren’t safe for disinfection.
8. Using Complicated Disinfecting Methods
While boiling masks in water and cleaning them in ovens, microwaves and pressure cookers have been suggested as alternative ways of disinfecting cloth masks, straightforward soap and water seems to be is the easiest and least-complicated way.