Wearing a face mask in public is an easy and simple way to help prevent the spread of dangerous viruses. When properly worn, your reusable face mask not only protects you, but also other people in the community. This is a particularly valuable preventative measure with viruses like covid-19 which can be transmitted between people who do not have any symptoms.
The latest forecast from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests that 33,000 deaths could be avoided by October 1 if 95 percent of people wore masks in public. It’s also been reported that wearing a mask can decrease the spread of a virus more than three times over in comparison to not wearing a mask. More and more, we are seeing how vital it is to consciously protect ourselves to further protect those around us.
Reusable cloth face masks have become particularly popular as a way to not only protect each other but also avoid the waste associated with single-use face masks. Given that a face mask’s primary role is to keep your respiratory environment clean it’s vital to keep your reusable face masks clean if it’s going to do any good.
How to wash a cloth face mask
The covid-19 virus can be killed with soap and water, so a thorough wash in warm water with detergent is an effective way to clean your cloth face mask. You can hand wash your masks or use your washing machine. Take care using chlorine bleach, as this can potentially destroy the quality and look of the mask. Depending on the material used for your reusable face mask it can be tumble-dried or hung up to dry.
It's recommended to wash your mask daily, so it’s a great idea to own two or more reusable cloth masks. That way, when one or more is in the wash, another is clean and ready to wear.
How to sanitize a cloth face mask
While a vigorous wash of your cloth face mask with soap is an effective way to kill viruses like covid-19, you can also take steps to sanitize your cloth face mask.
Sanitizing your face mask is also particularly important if you live with someone who is immunocompromised. It serves as an extra precaution for those who are the most susceptible to the disease.
If the washing machine you have access to permits adding disinfectant to the wash cycle, you can add it in there to further sanitize your mask. An effective disinfectant must have 5.25%-6.15% concentration of sodium hypochlorite.
If you prefer to not use commercial disinfectants, you can use hot water to sanitize your reusable face masks. The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the disease is likely killed when heated at a minimum temperature of 56°C (132.8°F), based on earlier studies of the SARS coronavirus.
Boiling your masks for several minutes is an effective way to sanitize your cloth face masks. Simply add them to a large pot of boiling water, stir for several minutes before straining and adding to your regular wash cycle. Be careful to avoid scalds from the boiling water.
How to wear a face mask correctly
While wearing a face mask is simple enough, it has zero benefits if worn incorrectly. The best way to put on a face mask before you head out that door, is to start by washing your hands, and then placing the mask on your face so as to cover both your nose and mouth, with no large gaps for air to escape around the edges. Leaving the nostrils exposed while wearing a mask will increase your risk of exposure to viruses.
While wearing a face mask is beneficial to the health and safety of yourself and those around you, it is no substitute for other preventative measures. Wearing a mask doesn’t cancel out the need to thoroughly and regularly wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer in a pinch) nor does it replace physical distancing when in public.