How To Wash Your Cloth Face Mask

Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Says Gah.
At this point, we’ve all gotten pretty used to wearing protective face masks. Maybe you ordered yours on Amazon before there was a run on them, or perhaps you made one at home. Some people’s masks might even be designer, with labels like Collina Strada, Jonathan Simkhai, and Alice + Olivia producing stylish alternatives to the protective gear. Heck, even Kim Kardashian West’s shapewear brand SKIMS is selling face masks these days. But while we may now be accustomed to the concept of wearing a cloth mask, one thing you may not be so familiar with is washing them, which is important. After all, your mask won’t do you — or anyone — any good if it’s covered in germs and dirt. 
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To ensure that your face covering is working at maximum effectiveness, there are a few important steps to follow. Ahead, find the answers to all your questions and a detailed guide for cleaning your cloth face covering at home.

Can you wash a face mask? 

If you bought or crafted a face covering made of cloth, the answer to this question is yes. Other disposable alternatives like the KN95 and N95 masks used by healthcare and other essential workers, however, cannot be properly cleaned at home. Given that N95 masks have a built-in air filter, washing them with water can diminish their effectiveness, putting you and others at risk. If you are using fiber masks rather than cloth ones, make sure to replace them after five wears, as per the CDC’s recommendations.

How often do you need to wash a cloth face mask?

If you have chosen to wear a cloth face mask rather than a fiber one, according to the CDC, you need to wash it after every single use. Upon safely returning home, remove your mask — without touching the front of the mask, and instead, untying or unlooping it first and folding the two corners together without bringing it in contact with your nose, mouth, or eyes — and throw it into the washing machine or sink. 
Given that washing your mask after every use is recommended, and drying it completely before use is crucial to its effectiveness, you’ll likely need to buy or make more than one.
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How to wash a face mask in a washing machine

The first step is to take out any removable filters you may be wearing in conjunction with your regular mask. To be safe, it’s recommended that you do so while wearing disposable gloves.
To preserve your cloth masks, specifically the elastic earloops, place your mask in a mesh bag as you would with delicates like lingerie and swimwear. This will ensure that they don’t get tangled amongst your other washables. Speaking of: Yes, you can wash your face masks with the rest of your dirty laundry.
Once inside the washing machine, add laundry detergent and set the water temperature to the highest possible heat setting. According to Carolyn Forte, the director of Good Housekeeping’s Institute Cleaning Lab, washing your cloth face masks in a washing machine with hot water is the best possible method of cleaning. 

How to wash a face mask by hand

If you’re a member of the 15% of American households who do not own a washing machine, you should wash your face mask by hand. When doing so, the first step is to create a bleach solution. Mix five tablespoons (or one-third of a cup) of household bleach per gallon of room temperature water or four teaspoons of household bleach per quart of room temperature water, per the CDC instructions. Make sure to check that your bleach is intended for disinfection and not past its expiration date before mixing. 
Once your solution is properly mixed, soak your face mask in the mixture for five minutes, and then rinse it thoroughly with cool or room temperature water.
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How to dry a face mask

If you have a dryer at home, set it to the highest heat setting and keep the mask (or the mesh bag that holds it) inside of the machine until it is completely dry (with an emphasis on completely). For those washing and drying their masks by hand, lay your mask flat until it is likewise totally dry. To aid in the drying process, lay it to dry in direct sunlight, per the CDC.
According to the Chicago Tribune, you can also use a hairdryer, kept six to eight inches away from the mask.
If you’ve been re-wearing your same cloth face mask, or just want a few extras on hand in case your go-tos are dirty, we’ve got all your mask needs covered. Shop cloth face masks here and designer versions here
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.