Face masks have become a regular sight these days, particularly since the CDC made its recommendation on the use of face masks during the coronavirus. And if you’ve been good about staying home during shelter-in-place guidelines, you might not have thought about cleaning your face mask on the rare occasions when you’ve gone out, since you probably didn’t leave your house for too long anyway.
But doctors like Shoshana Ungerleider, who specializes in internal medicine, say not only should you be wearing masks when you have to leave your home, you should also be washing cloth masks in a washing machine after every use (via CBS). Washing your mask regularly means you’re not only getting rid of anything contagious that might have gotten tangled up in the mask’s fibers, but you’re also cleaning out the mask on the inside, where there is a buildup of gunk that includes moisture from your breath, sweat, oils, and makeup — all of which create the perfect breeding ground for potentially harmful bacteria (via Better Homes and Gardens).
Why you shouldn't wash your mask in cold water
When you remove your cloth face mask, the Mayo Clinic says you should exercise care and not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, then wash your hands thoroughly as soon as your mask is off. You can wash your mask with your clothes, but doctors advise that you do that load of laundry with very hot water — on your machine those would be temperatures that are as high as 150 to 165 F, or the sanitize cycle. Because the World Health Organization says that a temperature of 132.8 F or 56C is hot enough to kill the COVID-19 virus, you could just get away with your washing machine’s highest temperature. If you want to handwash your mask, you can also use warm water and scrub that for at least 20 seconds before using the dryer to finish.
Microbiologist Rachel Noble tells Popular Science that boiling your masks is also an option, but doing that could hurt not just your mask’s breathability, but it can actually make cloth masks deteriorate more quickly. To make sure the masks have survived their time in the cauldron, you’ll need to hold the mask up to a strong light to see if it has any thin areas. And if you really want to play it safe, you need to remember that a cloth mask can only be boiled 10 times or so before it should be discarded.
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