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While some face masks are best left for one-time-use only — think professional-grade N95 masks and those blue disposable masks you see everywhere — many of the best face masks these days are meant to be reused. Cloth face coverings, in particular, are often machine-washable, while others can be easily washed by hand with just a few simple products and steps.
But according to a new survey, 79% of Americans aren’t washing their face masks after each use, and about 1 in 10 admitted they don’t wash their reusable cloth masks at all. The results, from hygiene-technology company, Livinguard, sound an alarm about the possible dangers of the coronavirus lingering in the house, and people unknowingly spreading Covid-19 through cross contamination.
According to the CDC, cloth face coverings should be washed after each use. Though reusable face masks won’t hold up forever (they should typically be tossed out after 20-30 uses, though the accessories brand Cremoly has masks they say can be re-worn up to 60 times), proper care and cleaning could help extend their lifespan, while eliminating surface germs, debris and bacteria. Here’s how to clean your face masks at home.
1. Bleach + Water Solution
You don’t need a ton of fancy ingredients or formulas to clean your face masks. The CDC recommends a simple bleach solution that you can create by mixing five tablespoons (1/3rd cup) of household bleach per gallon of room temperature water, or four teaspoons household bleach per quart of room temperature water (be sure to check the label to see if your bleach is intended for disinfection).
Pour the bleach mixture in a bowl or tub and let your face covering soak in the solution for at least five minutes (we recommend using a pair of disposable gloves while doing this). Rinse thoroughly with cool or room temperature water. Toss your mask in the dryer or lay out to air dry. If tossing in the dryer, the CDC recommends the highest heat setting possible; if air drying, the CDC says it’s best to put the mask in direct sunlight.
2. Warm Soapy Water
According to Diann Peart, the founder of cleaning brand, Truce, cloth masks are not only the most commonly used type of face covering — they’re also the easiest to clean. While bleach is great for sanitizing, Peart recommends using warm soapy water instead. “While bleach may be great for sanitizing hard surfaces or cleaning towels and bedding, it can sometimes be a respiratory irritant,” she says. A solution of warm water and soap may be gentler on your skin and the face mask material.
This Dr. Bronner’s castile soap works up a sudsy lather and is made with all-natural, organic ingredients that won’t irritate your skin or your senses. The company says its soaps are vegan-friendly and safe for everything from laundry to mopping to dishes.
3. Washing Machine
Most cloth face masks can be tossed in the washer, and Peart says “machine washing will be sufficient.” After running it for a cycle in the washing machine, Peart says to place the mask in the dryer on the hot setting. Add a detergent that’s strong enough to break down sweat, grime and oils that may be clinging to the mask material.
When it comes to laundry, no detergent is proven to eliminate the coronavirus, but the CDC recommends products that contain hydrogen peroxide, which has disinfectant properties. Powerizer is a USDA BioPreferred plant and mineral-based cleaner that contains sodium percarbonate; when mixed with water, it turns into hydrogen peroxide. Non-toxic and made without phosphates, dyes or fillers, Powerizer Complete is a great option for cleaning your face masks safely and effectively.
4. Cavere Personal Protection Spray
You’re already used to using a hand sanitizer or disinfectant spray, and this one, from Cavere, is specially formulated for use on PPE (personal protective equipment) with 70% alcohol to kill germs, and naturally-derived ingredients to freshen and deodorize.
Use it on gloves, masks and more. For masks, spray 3-4 times on each side, then allow to air dry. No need to rub or scrub. The formula is non-irritating, and safe even for sensitive skin.
5. UV Sanitizer Bag
Studies have shown the efficacy of using UV (Ultraviolet) light to disinfect your phones and accessories, and Peart says UV rays can also disinfect your mask. While a number of companies now make portable UV sanitizing devices, Peart cautions that it’s important to find one that’s large enough to fit your mask entirely. “Since UV can only disinfect what it shines on, any shadows cast by a mask’s tiny folds might prevent those spots from being decontaminated,” she says.
We like this UV sanitizing bag from Homedics, which uses UV-C LED technology to kill up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, according to the manufacturer. The unit is large enough to fit your phone, keys, sunglasses, wallet and yes, your face mask too. Tap the power button and in just one minute, the device will zap both sides of your mask with powerful LED lights for a deep and thorough clean.
6. UV Sanitizer Wand
For a more efficient and effective way to clean high-touch surfaces around the house, consider a UV sanitizing wand, like this one from Sharper Image.
The Travel UV Sanitizing Wand uses powerful Ultraviolet-C light to kill up to 99.9% of bacteria, including E. coli. Hold the portable device in your hand and wave it slowly over anything you want to disinfect. Sharper Image says the wand’s UV light can help reduce microscopic germs, mold and irritants that cause colds, infections, asthma and allergic reactions.
This compact device is no larger than a hair straightener, and it’s completely wireless, running on four AA batteries. It naturally eliminates germs and bacteria, with no odors or harsh chemicals.
There are a couple of other things to keep in mind. “Be sure to wash your hands before and after handling your face mask in case any virus droplets should be present on the mask’s surface,” Peart says. Also: “Most experts recommend that your mask be washed and dried after each wearing,” she says, “so you might want to have two masks, in case you need one for errands or work while the other one is in the wash.”
Another important note: “When your mask is soiled or damaged, you’ll need to discard it,” Peart warns. “Don’t throw your soiled or damaged face mask in the garbage – it may contain dangerous germs. Wash the mask, dry it on the highest setting and then fold it up and place it in a sealed plastic bag – then in the garbage,” she says. And of course, “Always remember to wash your hands before and after you’ve handled the face mask.” The last you want is to have protected yourself from breathing in germs, only to rub them back on your face right after.