How and When to Wash Your Reusable Cloth Mask and When to Throw It Away
The outbreak of COVID-19 across the planet has made it essential for everyone who is able to do so to wear a mask when they’re out in public. Wearing a reusable cloth mask is an inexpensive, responsible, and sustainable choice, but learning to properly wear and care for cloth masks has been a bit of a learning curve for many of us.
One of the great benefits of using a reusable cloth mask in place of a disposable mask is that you can wash and reuse it pretty much indefinitely. However, if you’re using a cloth mask, it’s important to know when to wash your mask, how to wash your mask, and when it’s time to finally throw it away and get a new one.
If you own a cloth mask, or even if you use a disposable one, please read on to find out more about how to care for it and when it’s time to replace it.
Disposable Masks VS. Cloth
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends throwing away disposable face masks in the trash after every use. Disposable masks can be worn more than once if needed, but they should not be reused if they become moist or soiled or if you’ve been around someone with COVID-19 while wearing it. You should also be sure not to share your mask (either accidentally or on purpose) with anyone else. If you are not sure whether your mask has been used by someone else, you should replace it.
Cloth masks, on the other hand, can be worn for months or even years, as long as they are holding up well, which is cheaper and better for the environment than disposable masks. However, if you’re reusing a cloth mask, it’s important to know how often you should wash it, how to wash it, and when it’s time to throw it away.
Why Is It Important to Wash a Cloth Face Mask?
Washing your mask regularly keeps it clean so that you’re less likely to get COVID-19 or other illnesses. You’ll also be less likely to spread any illness you have already to someone else if you’re washing your mask.
Aside from that, a dirty mask can also get dirt and grime on your skin, which can cause rashes or breakouts. Washing your mask often can help keep these skin issues at bay.
When to Wash a Cloth Mask
How often you’ll need to wash your mask depends on how often you wear it and the activities you’re engaged in. The safest thing to do is to wash your mask after every use, but this may not be necessary or practical for everyone. Use your best judgment, but remember to wash your mask anytime it becomes damp or soiled or if you’ve been in close proximity with other people, especially anyone who may have COVID-19 or another illness. Wash it as often as possible for the sake of cleanliness and safety.
It’s important to have more than one cloth mask so that when it’s time to wash yours, you’ll have a backup. Two may be enough, but if you wear a mask a lot and need to change it out often, you might want more than one extra. If you’re in need of a backup or two, you can pick some up from the GreaterGood store. For every mask sold, we’ll make a donation to someone else who is in need of a mask.
How to Wash a Cloth Mask
When it’s time to wash your mask, you can either hand wash it or put it in the washing machine with your regular laundry. Check on what type of fabric your mask is made of to know whether it can go in the dryer or needs to hang dry. If you’re not sure, air dry your mask for best results.
“The best way is to wash it is in the washing machine on a warm or hot setting, provided the fabric can take that, and then put it in the dryer on a hot setting too,” says Annette Bougault, a critical care researcher and professor at UCF College of Nursing. “And you can do it along with your regular laundry, so it’s not like you need to do a separate load, just for the face masks.”
If you opt to hand wash your mask, do so in a mixture of bleach and water, or just use hot soapy water. Scrub the mask for at least 20 seconds (longer is better), rinse well, and air dry it or throw it in the dryer.
Be sure not to use strongly scented detergents if you’re sensitive to smells, because you’ll be wearing this item close to your face, potentially for extended periods of time. Think twice about bleach too if you’re worried your skin or nose will react to it.
Store your clean masks in a location where they’ll stay clean until you’re ready to use them.
Caring for Reusable Filter Inserts
If you use disposable filters in your cloth mask, you should dispose of them regularly just like you would with a disposable mask. If they’re reusable, however, you can wash them like you do with your cloth mask—just a little more carefully. Try putting them in a lingerie bag on the delicate cycle so they stay intact longer. This can be done with face masks too in order to increase their life expectancy.
The more often you wash a reusable filter, the less filtration power it will have. Even reusable filters need to be thrown out and replaced fairly regularly to ensure you’re getting the protection you need. Watch for signs of wear, including fraying, pilling, and holes. You should replace your reusable filter when it has obvious signs of significant wear.
When to Dispose of Your Cloth Mask
Cloth masks can last for years, but they won’t last forever, regardless of the fabric or design. Look out for signs of wear to know when your mask has outlived its usefulness.
Dispose of your cloth mask if it does not fit snugly over your nose and mouth, if its ties have been stretched out or damaged, if it does not stay on your face on its own, or if it has holes or tears in the fabric. If your mask appears to be wearing thin over time, it would also be a good idea to replace it.
A mask that’s damaged or worn out and no longer works properly doesn’t do any good to anybody. Taking care of your cloth mask is important, but in the end, all masks will wear out. Dispose of your cloth mask (or recycle it properly, if possible) when it’s seen better days, and opt for a new one.
GreaterGood can help you replace your worn-out mask or add more backup masks to your collection. Look for our “Give a Mask” symbol, and your purchase will prompt a donation to someone else who’s in need of a mask. We carry children’s and adults’ sizes in a wide variety of styles and colors, so you’re sure to find the perfect ones for you and your family!
We’ve already donated well over a million masks, and with your help, we hope to reach two million! Check out our Mask a Million page to learn more!
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Elizabeth Morey graduated summa cum laude from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, where she dual majored in English Literature and Spanish with minors in Writing and Business Administration. She was a member of the school's Insignis Honors Society and the president of the literary honors society Lambda Iota Tau.
Some of Elizabeth's special interests include Spanish and English linguistics, modern grammar and spelling, and journalism. She has been writing professionally for more than five years and specializes in health topics such as breast cancer, autism, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Apart from her work at GreaterGood, she has also written art and culture articles for the Grand Rapids Magazine.
Elizabeth has lived in the beautiful Great Lakes State for most of her life but also loves to travel. She currently resides a short drive away from the dazzling shores of Lake Michigan with her beloved husband.