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How To Wash A Face Mask, Straight From A Public Health Specialist

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It looks like, in many parts of the world, face masks are going be sticking around a little longer — considering the fact that they're able to slow the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19. But they're a lot less beneficial if you're not caring for them properly, so it's imperative that you implement strict cleaning practices, and that includes a specific way to wash your face mask.

So firstly, how exactly do masks help minimize your risk of being infected? "If an infected individual sneezes or coughs while wearing a face mask, most of the germs get trapped onto the cloth covering their face," explains Dr. Urvish Patel, a medical advisor for eMediHealth, who received his Master’s Degree in Public Health. "This reduces the chances of the virus/germs spreading to the others around that individual."

These days, reusable fabric masks are easier to access and more fun to wear — thanks to tons of stylish options by your favorite fashion brands — than ever before. But to keep them looking good as well as actually effective (not to mention avoiding the dreaded "maskne"), you'll want to maintain their cleanliness. And according to the experts, there are some do's and don'ts for doing just that.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can either machine wash or hand wash your mask. If you choose the former, you can use your regular detergent (opt for something fragrance free and mild if you have sensitive skin) and water that's as warm as the type of fabric allows. Then tumble try on high heat — again, with the material in mind.

As for hand washing, the CDC says you can use a bleach solution, as long as it's fabric safe and you make sure the product you're using is intended to specifically disinfect. A good guideline for a solution is 4 teaspoons per quart of room temperature water, and you should soak the mask for at least five minutes before rinsing. Hang to dry in direct sunlight if possible.

In terms of frequency, Dr. Patel recommends washing your mask every two to three days, removing your filter if you have one (and he adds that N95 filters work well for about a week). In between washes, if your mask isn't currently in use, make sure it's kept separated from your other laundry. "Keep a separate washable bag to put the reusable mask in to avoid its contact in your purse, car, and other surfaces," he says.

And in case you haven't already been taught to do so, avoid touching the front of your mask with your hands. Apply, remove, and adjust your designated face covering using the ties or ear loops and if you do happen to touch it, wash your hands ASAP using soap and water or at minimum a sanitizer (one with 60 percent ethanol or 70 percent isopropanol is recommended by the CDC) if you can't get to a sink.