The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Even as the world begins to unpause, wearing masks seems likely to continue.
According to Penni Watts, Ph.D., RN, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, masks are designed not to prevent the wearer from getting ill, but to protect other people from getting the virus. Masks protect others from your germs when you cough or sneeze. They’re also an effective way to help people to avoid touching their faces.
Masks are exposed to the elements and germs each time they are worn, meaning they will require cleaning. Even though Harvard Health suggests COVID-19 may live more readily on hard surfaces than fabric, the CDC urges people to give cloth face masks the same level of care as regular laundry. Masks should be washed and dried often. The CDC offers these tips on how to clean most cloth and fabric masks.
- Fabric face masks should be washed depending on the frequency of use. More frequent use necessitates more frequent washing.
- A washing machine should be adequate for properly washing a face covering. Choose a warm setting for water temperature. Place masks in the dryer afterward.
- More delicate, hand-sewn masks may be washed by hand, suggests The Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab. Lather masks with soap and scrub them for at least 20 seconds with warm or hot water before placing in the dryer.
- For additional sanitation, iron masks on the cotton or linen setting for a few minutes to kill remaining germs.
- If masks are fortified with a filter, such as a coffee or HVAC filter, keep in mind that these filters are designed for single use. Paper filters should be replaced after each use. HVAC filters are washable, but manufacturers warn that their effectiveness decreases with each wash. Medium weight nonwoven interface used as filter material is typically washable.
Various health agencies do not condone using steam or microwaves to clean cloth face masks, as these sanitizing techniques are not as effective as regular laundering. Also, never microwave non-fabric dust or N95 respirator masks if you are using them. They can catch fire or be rendered useless.
Cloth face masks can help safeguard against germs like the novel coronavirus. However, they need to be cleaned regularly to remain sanitary.