How to properly clean a cloth face mask

Face masks and coverings that were once only seen in medical settings are now commonplace where we live and work, as we all try to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that cloth face coverings made from household items can be effective in controlling the spread of the virus to others, but how do we keep these reusable masks clean?

When to Clean Your Mask

It’s recommended that you wash your cloth mask after each use. Many homemade masks allow for an optional filter to be inserted. This is sometimes as simple as a coffee filter, and they are meant for single use only. So, it’s a good idea to throw away the filter after each use and before washing your mask.

Carefully remove your mask after each wear and be sure to wash your hands anytime you touch the mask, and especially after removing it.

Remove the mask by the strings and try to handle it only by the elastic ties, being careful not to touch the front of the mask itself. Immediately wash your hands with warm water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.

Mask Cleaning Methods

There are a couple different ways to clean your mask before using again. Using a washing machine or even washing by hand are both suitable ways to get your mask clean*.

Washing Machine

    1. Throw your mask in with a load of regular laundry. It isn’t necessary to wash it separately on its own, but don’t put it in with color sensitive clothing if you’re worried of transfer.
    2. Use your regular laundry detergent and the hottest water setting possible for the fabric the mask is made of.

Hand Washing

    1. Prepare a bleach mixture:
      • 1/3 cup household bleach per gallon of room temperature water -or-
      • 4 teaspoons household bleach per quart of room temperature water
    2. Soak the mask in the bleach solution for 5 minutes.
    3. Fully rinse with fresh water.

Drying Your Mask

Unless your mask is made of sensitive material, use the highest heat setting on the dryer until fully dry. Alternately, the mask can be laid flat to dry, ideally in the sun.

More On Masks

With the re-opening of businesses and communities, more people are venturing out into public and wearing face coverings is becoming a part of everyday life. The CDC recommends that even children over the age of two should be wearing a face covering in public settings. Seen as an additional step to help slow the spread of COVID-19, it’s important to wear a face mask properly to ensure greatest effectiveness. Make sure the mask is over your nose and mouth at all times, and that it fits snugly against your face. Breathability is important too, so sufficient airflow still needs to be a number one concern.

Because the frequency of the need for masks is greater, it’s a good idea to have a few on hand at all times. Getting into a system of a wash/wear rotation with your masks is a good habit to form, as the need for face coverings is likely to continue for an extended period. In fact, some states or regional areas are requiring face coverings in public areas as COVID-19 infections continue to rise following the gradual re-opening of public spaces. Because many individuals with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, or do not display symptoms, it makes mask-wearing important when a safe physical distance cannot be guaranteed.

The CDC recommends cloth face coverings for general public use, and not surgical mask or N-95 respirators, which should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders.