At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, recommendations from experts focused on hand washing and social distancing. But as we learned more about the transmission of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization began urging people to wear masks in public. Not a substitute for social distancing, face masks are meant to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
So far, the practice of wearing masks in public has not been adopted by everyone, although research has supported the idea that face coverings can trap particles exhaled from the wearer from entering the air. That’s an important step, especially since many people who have COVID-19 may be asymptomatic. Wearing a face mask is an “altruistic act,” meaning it’s for the well-being of others, according to an editorial published in late April 2020, in the Journal of Breath Research.
Wearing a mask may be uncomfortable or even cause breakouts (aka maskne), but finding the right one can help make it more bearable. N95 masks are currently being passed down to healthcare providers, so for most people, a face mask means a handmade cloth covering or one ordered online. The CDC also has simple instructions on how to make a mask from US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams.
If you have a disposable mask — the kind you often see doctors wearing — you can just throw it away after you use it. But what if you have several cloth masks? How to wash and store it safely?
Whatever type of mask you have, when you take it off, make sure not to touch your face. The CDC says to remove the mask with the ear straps or loops, only touching those parts; never touch the mask material itself. Remove and discard the filter if your mask has one. Fold the mask so that the fronts are together, then wash your hands immediately afterwards.
If you use a face cloth, you should wash it after use. Mix it with your regular laundry and detergent using the warmest water setting appropriate for your mask fabric.
You can also wash it by hand. The CDC recommends a solution of household bleach and water, as long as your bleach is a disinfectant and not a color-safe type. Soak your mask in the solution for five minutes and rinse thoroughly.
After washing, you can dry the mask in the dryer on a high temperature or in direct sunlight.
When it comes to storing masks, Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at The Johns Hopkins Health System, writes that you should store them in a clean place when you’re not wearing them. The zip-close bag fits perfectly.
Given that you may need to clean and dry your mask after every outing, you may want to have more than one.