The coronavirus isn’t about to go anyway any time soon. The reality is, it’ll be here for many months to come. Given that, it’s crucial that we do our part to protect ourselves and others. For example, it’s super important that you wash your hands often—either with soap or water or with an alcohol-based sanitizer.
Not only that, but you also want to maintain a safe distance aka social distance yourself from others (ideally 6 feet). That way, you won’t be as likely to be exposed to liquid droplets, which is how the virus spreads. Aside from that, you want to avoid touching your face. More specifically, you don’t want to touch your eyes, mouth, or nose. Doing so can introduce the virus into the body.
Finally, wear a mask. If anything, it’s one of the best things that you can do to help stop the coronavirus. Basically, it acts as a physical barrier to help stop the spread of droplets from a person’s nose and mouth when talking, coughing, or sneezing. Keep in mind, however, that just wearing a mask won’t be enough. You want to combine it with other preventative measures.
Choosing a Face Mask
As you’re probably aware, there’s more than one type of mask that you can wear. Let’s take a look at how they differ below.
Surgical masks, aka medical masks, are loose-fitting masks that protect the wearer’s nose and mouth. More specifically, they’ll prevent droplets, sprays, and splashes from coming into contact with the face. While the FDA hasn’t specifically approved a type of surgical mask for protection against covid, its benefits are well established.
N95 masks are “better” than surgical masks in that they offer more protection against the coronavirus. As its name implies, it’s capable of blocking out 95% of small particles, including viruses. Depending on the type, some may come with valves that make them easier to breathe through.
Unlike surgical masks, however, individuals must be properly trained on how to put on an N95 mask. That is, they must be able to achieve a proper seal, otherwise, its efficacy will go down significantly.
Surgical and N95 masks are the most effective. In the midst of the pandemic, however, both have been in short supply. As a result, many have turned toward cloth masks. While they might be as effective as blocking small particles, they can be washed and reused.
For example, many are made of tightly woven cotton, polyester, and nylon. Ideally, you want to get something that consists of multiple layers.
Note: For the purposes of this post, we’ll be focusing on the cloth variety.
The Proper Way to Wear a Cloth Mask
Cloth masks should be worn in public where it’s hard to maintain social distancing measures (e.g. grocery stores). To wear it, place the mask over your nose and mouth. Use the ear loops to secure it in place—you want it to be snug. Once the mask is on, do not touch your face. Wash or sanitize your hands immediately if you accidentally touch it.
How to Remove a Mask
Start by washing your hands with soap and warm water. Do not touch the front of the mask as it may be contaminated. Instead, remove it by lifting the ear loops or band. Once it’s off, throw the mask in the laundry. If that’s not possible, store it in a paper bag. Carefully fold it in half so that the inner layer is on the inside. Once the mask is in the bag, wash your hands again. Do not leave your face mask hanging from your rear-view mirror. Wash it as soon as you get home.
Cloth Face Mask Washing Instructions
It’s important to wash your cloth mask after each wear—it’ll help limit the spread of the coronavirus and other germs. If possible, put it directly into the laundry once you get home; you don’t want it to come into contact with anything else as you never know whether or not it may be contaminated.
Note: It’s always a good idea to bring a spare mask with you when you go out. After all, it can get icky quickly, especially in the heat.
The Best Materials For Reusable Cloth Masks
Reusable masks can be made from several different materials. Let’s take a look at some of the options below.
Studies have shown that tightly-woven cotton (more than 180 thread count)may be effective at reducing coronavirus transmission. For the best results, it’s recommended that you use at least two layers of cotton—that way, the droplets won’t be able to pass through the fabric as easily.
Polyester is a synthetic material that can also be used for masks. While it can be used by itself, it’s best to combine it with a tightly woven cotton sheet. Why? Polyester in itself won’t be enough to keep droplets out as it tends to become moist from breathing.
Researchers have found that adding nylon around face masks can make them more effective. More specifically, nylon stockings can help filter out small particles that might be in the air. Not only that, but it can also help create a tighter seal, something that’s super important when it comes efficacy.
How to Wash Cloth Face Masks
Like we said earlier, you want to wash your cloth mask as soon as possible when you get home. Generally speaking, there are two ways to do this and we’ll be outlining them below.
Can You Put Cloth Masks in the Washing Machine?
Yes, cloth masks are machine washable. This shouldn’t be surprising given that they’re made out of the same materials as most clothing. In fact, you can even wash them together with your regular laundry.
First things first, remove the filter (if your reusable mask has one). If anything, it’s even more delicate than the mask itself. For that reason, you might want to wash it by hand instead. Basically, all you have to do is soak it in a soap and water solution. Afterward, gently massage the filter while rinsing it with clean water. As far as drying goes, it’s best to “hot dry” the filter with heat as that’ll help with the sanitization process.
Once you’ve taken out the filter, put the cloth mask in a mesh laundry bag. That will ensure that the ear loops won’t get tangled inside the machine; it’ll also prevent them from stretching. If you don’t have one on hand, you can improvise with a zippered pillowcase.
Add one scoop of ACTIVE detergent and run a hot water cycle (hot water helps to kill viruses and germs). If there are any virus particles, they’ll be disintegrated by the detergent. For extra cleaning power, you can also add bleach, though it’s not necessary. In fact, it can do more harm than good if it’s not rinsed properly.
Take out the mask once the washing is complete. Transfer it to a dryer (with the laundry bag) and set it to the highest setting. Leave it in the machine until it’s completely dry. Alternatively, you can let it air dry (put it in the sunlight if possible). Wait until it’s fully dry before re-wearing.
Hand Washing Your Cloth Mask
Aside from running it through the machine, you can also wash your cloth mask by hand. Start by filling a sink with hot water; you can also use a container—as long as it’s big enough so that you can put your hands in and scrub the mask. Next, add half a scoop of ACTIVE detergent. Place the mask in the sink once the powder is dissolved and let it soak for a full 30 minutes (the longer the better).
Once it’s been soaked, you want to rinse it thoroughly with water. The goal is to remove all traces of detergent (the water should eventually come out clear). Finally, place the cloth mask in a laundry bag and transfer it to the dryer. Dry on high heat. Alternatively, you can use a hairdryer. Make sure to keep it at least 6 inches away from the mask. Another option is to let it air dry in the sun.
Note: As with machine washing, it’s important that you remove the filter first so that you can wash it separately. Keep in mind, though, that every time you wash them, their effectiveness will go down. Eventually, they will have to be replaced.
How NOT to Wash Your Cloth Masks
Some people have been using other methods to clean and sanitize their cloth masks. Here are a few methods that you want to avoid:
Microwaving Your Mask
Some sources recommend that you sanitize your masks and filters by putting them in the microwave. This is not a good idea as it can lead to cross-contamination—after all, we use the microwave for food. Not to mention that it can also be a fire hazard.
Alcohol, either fully concentrated or diluted, is not recommended for cleaning masks and filters. More specifically, they can cause the material to dry out, which will render it useless. Even when you’re using detergents, it’s best to choose something that does not contain alcohol.
UV sanitizers should not be used for cleaning masks and filters. They’re designed for electronics and small personal items, not masks, which tend to have many nooks and crannies from material folds.
Things to Keep In Mind About Cloth Masks
- Always keep your cloth masks will dry—they will lose their effectiveness if they become damp
- Never seal a mask inside a plastic bag
- Do not touch your face after putting on a mask
- Avoid putting on thick makeup if you’ll be wearing a mask