Face masks are becoming more a part of life every day, with Victorians required to wear them in public and residents in NSW and the ACT also wearing them in crowded places like public transport and supermarkets.
Therefore it’s important for us to know how to look after our masks, particularly if you’ve purchased reusable ones. So we’ve rounded up some tips around how to wash them and how often we should be doing so.
How often do you need to wash reusable face masks?
Advice differs on this point. While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states your mask needs to be washed after every use, other government websites simply state you should wash it “regularly”.
Kate Grusich, a spokesperson for the CDC, said that how often you need to wash a face covering is dependent on how frequently you wear it.
“If you’re just taking the occasional trip to the pharmacy and supermarket, a weekly wash should be appropriate, as long as the mask isn’t visibly soiled,” she told GQ.
“If it is soiled, or if you’ve been around someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, the face covering should be washed immediately after use.”
NSW Health recommends having one mask for each time of day you need one.
“For example, one for the train in the morning, one for when you are out buying lunch, and one for the train in the evening,” the website states.
“Wash your collection of masks at the end of each day.”
On top of that, it is recommended you store your reusable face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them.
How to properly wash your face mask
The simplest way to clean your face mask is to toss it in the washing machine.
There’s no need to wash your face masks separately, as the government says you can wash and dry them with your other laundry. Just use your normal detergent, follow the instructions for the fabric and wash it on the highest temperature recommended for the fabric.
Allowing your mask to dry is also an important part of the washing process. If you’re using a tumble dryer the CDC advises using the highest heat setting and leaving in the dryer until completely dry.
If you don’t have access to a dryer don’t worry, it is just as effective to leave your mask to air dry by laying the mask flat until it is completely dry and, if possible, placing the mask in direct sunlight.
Why is it important to wash reusable face masks?
Research indicates that fabric, when not properly disinfected, is a carrier for viruses, like norovirus and coronavirus, and bacteria, including E. coli, says Ryan Sinclair, associate professor of environmental microbiology at Loma Linda University School of Public Health, in a press release.
Professor Sinclair goes on to explain pathogens like bacteria and viruses can live on cloth fabric for up to 8-12 hours.
“Because we don’t know what germs we’ve been in contact with or how low long the germs have been active on the cloth fibres, it is crucial to regularly wash, sanitise and dry reusable face masks,” he says.
As well as helping to keep coronavirus at bay, washing your mask can also help prevent you developing maskne (spots caused by wearing a grubby mask).
Face mask hygiene tips to reduce infection risk
When wearing a face covering you should:
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on
avoid wearing your mask on your neck or forehead
avoid touching the part of the face covering in contact with your mouth and nose, as it could be contaminated with the virus
change the face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
avoid taking it off and putting it back on a lot in quick succession (for example, when leaving and entering shops on a high street).
When removing a face covering:
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before removing
only handle the straps, ties or clips
do not give it to someone else to use
if single-use, dispose of it carefully in a residual waste bin and do not recycle
if reusable, wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed.
Additional reporting by Marie Claire Dorking.