As more states work toward reopening and getting back to business as usual, many people are going to be cycling through their face mask stock faster than they can restock it. The solution for many is to reuse the ones they already have, but it’s hard to keep track of just how you can safely reuse masks while maintaining their effectiveness.
Jade Flinn, a nurse educator for the Biocontainment Unit at John Hopkins Medicine and someone who specializes in personal protective equipment (PPE), told Apartment Therapy that people should treat masks like undergarments — you should be changing them out daily.
Flinn offered advice for those looking to properly clean their face mask:
Wash Cloth Masks and Bandanas Separately
If you use DIY cloth masks or bandanas as your face covering of choice, you can wash them in the washing machine but separately from other clothing items. Just as you would wash other possibly contaminated items, use the hottest setting on your washer and dryer along with regular laundry detergent.
Be wary if your DIY face masks are more fragile and require handwashing instead. Make sure all moisture is fully dried out before using the mask again.
Rely on Time for Surgical and N-95 Masks
If you happen to have surgical or N-95 masks in your possession, timing the period between uses is going to be the better option. Flinn recommends hanging the mask or leaving it in a paper bag for 72 hours before wearing it again. A three-day-period is the safest as it’s the longest amount of time the coronavirus is expected to live on any surface.
Paper bags allow more breathability than plastic bags — which often act as incubators for whatever is on the mask.
Be Wary of Usual Techiniques
Many recommend leaving items out in the sun so that UV rays can kill off pathogens, but for surgical and N-95 masks they can actually detoriorate after extensive time in the sun.
“There’s a piece of foam at the bridge of the nose, which could disintegrate in sunlight,” Flinn told Apartment Therapy.
Likewise, steamers are another thing people use to disinfect household items but aren’t necessarily the best method for cleaning your face masks. With every steamer being different, you don’t know how much heat or humidity you are using to effectively kill the virus. Flinn also mentions that some steamers only penetrate the surface rather than multiple layers of the mask.
Of course, don’t be afraid to throw away your masks when the time comes. Flinn says to look out for signs that it’s time to throw out your masks: visible soilage, wear on mask fibers, and damage to masks (ear loops, rips, holes).