Now that health organizations, governments, and territories across the world require citizens to wear a face mask when out in public, we must be aware of how to handle face masks safely, how to use them, and just as importantly, how to care for them. Mastering these three things will help secure our health and stop the spread of COVID-19.
The CDC recommends that citizens who are not healthcare workers use a reusable cloth mask and reserve surgical and N95 masks for medical personnel. While choosing a ready-made mask or making a homemade one, double-check the material. This way, it will be effortless for you to care for your washable face mask. After testing, Smart Air recommends cotton as the best material.
How do I use a washable face mask?
Choose a face mask that you are able to clean between uses. All you need to do is wash it immediately after wearing it. This allows you to safely reuse the mask as many times as possible. However, to get the most protection from your mask, you have to know how to use it properly, as well.
The CDC instructions on how to make an approved homemade mask have made it easy to acquire this knowledge. These recommendations will also help you while purchasing a washable mask, as you will be looking for specific, fundamental features that will protect you with certainty.
How is a face mask essential during this time?
When someone coughs, sneezes, or even sings, minute droplets are released into the air. If that person is infected with COVID-19, the virus is released along with those droplets. If you’re close to someone who is coughing (or you’re the one coughing) the virus can easily spread. This is why it’s currently essential to wear a face mask when you must go out into the community.
Requirements your face mask should meet:
- The masks should properly fit you, cover your mouth and nose, and be as comfortable as possible.
- You should be able to breathe through your mask. If you have to inhale too hard, it could compromise the edges, allowing the virus in.
- The mask should either have straps for you to tie at the top of your head and your neck or hook on your ears.
Tightly-woven 100% cotton will act as the best layer of fabric. You can purchase this online or, if you have a mask you can use in the meantime, you can make a quick run to the fabric store. If you aren’t able to buy any fabric, a pillowcase, bandana, or any other woven material like a t-shirt can be transformed into a temporary face covering. Note that the CDC doesn’t necessarily mandate you to buy a ready-made mask if you can follow their instructions to make the right homemade face mask.
Avoid using plastic, knit fabrics to make a face covering. Some of these materials will stretch too much, leaving holes for the virus to find its way through, possibly entering your body through your nose or mouth.
A washable dust mask is also a great alternative. They provide the right amount of safety in their layers and materials while maintaining a format that is easy to wash and clean in order to remain reusable and comfortable.
Because surgical masks are in short supply at the moment, these washable face masks are most likely the ones you’ll find the most of. They’re available in different designs, providing variety, comfort, and safety in one. Much like any other mask, having more than one of these on hand prevents you from having to reuse the same mask over and over. It increases the longevity of the mask itself, saving you money in the long run.
How does the CDC recommend you wash your mask?
Hygiene practices are essential during these times. COVID-19 is not likely to survive on regularly disinfected and cleaned surfaces, so in addition to washing your mask after every use, be sure to clean any surface that it touches, as well.
The coronavirus can exist on surfaces that have not been disinfected for as many as five days, though you are more likely to catch it from a person than a surface. That means it is just as important to clean and disinfect regularly as it is to care for your mask! Especially since researchers still have a lot to learn about this virus. For example, there are currently differing beliefs as to whether or not COVID-19 can survive for a significant amount of time on clothes.
With that said, the CDC has been able to suggest proper ways of caring for and cleaning your face covering:
- All reusable face masks, especially those with fabric, should be washed after each use. Some dry very quickly, and most should be able to survive a dryer cycle.
- When washing your face mask, use warm or hot water.
- For your protection, remove your mask by the straps. Do not touch the outside or inside of the mask fabric. Afterward, wash your hands with soap and running water.
Using face mask filters
Many people are using filters to add an extra layer of protection sandwiched between two layers of fabric to their masks. These filters may increase the effectiveness of your mask, as long as you are able to breathe with the filter in place. You should also change your filter regularly.
Because of this, it is counterproductive to sew your filter in place. Whether you are using a coffee filter or some other variant, leave an opening on the back of your homemade mask (or purchase a cloth mask with a filter pocket) so that you can insert a new filter each time you use it. Then, remove and dispose of the filter immediately afterward, as you will need to wash your mask and cannot do so with a disposable filter inside!
Experts advise that while choosing a washable face mask filter, you should select one that doesn’t saturate easily with fluids or vapor and does not inhibit comfortable breathing.
How should you clean your face masks and how often?
Wash your mask regularly
How frequently are you using your face mask? Even if your answer is more than once daily, then you should wash it every time you use it. “For example, if you’re going to the grocery store, it should be washed upon returning home and before going out next,” says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist.
Use warm water while hand-washing
Hot or warm water kills germs. Do not use water above the boiling point because it can damage the fabric. “Use a warm setting to remove bacteria and viruses without weakening the fabric,” says Deirdra Jones, the designer behind Rendall Co.
Make sure you wash with soap for at least one minute, rinse it properly, and dry the mask before using again. You can also boil your face mask in water for a maximum of five minutes as Prof. Rachael Noble, a microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests. Just don’t overdo the boiling, as it could damage your mask’s fabric, which would affect its efficiency.
You can use direct sunlight to dry the face mask after washing. If there is no sunlight, you can use a drying machine. Be sure your mask is completely dry before putting it on again; never wear a damp mask.
Use plenty of water and soap
If hand washing, use enough soapy water to thoroughly saturate your face covering. Rinse the mask in plenty of clean water afterward. If you are machine washing, your usual detergent should suffice. “Antibacterial detergents or soaps have not proven consistently to have an additional benefit over normal ones,” says Dr. Raymond Fong.
Have more than one mask
The same way we have extra clothes in our closet to avoid over-using one piece of clothing, additional face masks help to alleviate the day-to-day wear and tear on each mask. Since you must wash the mask after every use, the fabric of a single mask would take quite a beating over time. However, if we have more than one mask, we will not have to wash and wear a single mask over and over. This way, all our masks can serve us for an extended period before we buy new ones.
Preventative measures to use alongside the use of washable face masks
Face masks are a first line of defense but are most effective when used alongside other preservative measures such as:
- Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly with running water and soap
- Maintaining a distance of six feet between people
- Staying at home and only making essential trips out for things like groceries and medical supplies
- Avoiding crowded places like parties
- Covering your face while coughing or sneezing
- Keeping your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth
- Self-quarantining if you experience any symptoms like dry cough, chills, or fever
If we take heed and follow all of the CDC guidelines on how to handle, wear, and care for our washable face masks, we should be able to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19.