“How often should I wash my face mask?”

How often should we wash our reusable face masks? With face coverings set to become mandatory in shops across England on 24 July, we asked a laundry expert to share their top tips for cleaning, washing and storing our masks. 

After weeks of back and forth between government figures and scientific advisors, we finally have some solid guidance on the wearing of face masks in places other than on public transport and in hospital. From 24 July, it will become mandatory to wear a face covering in any shop or supermarket across England, with those who refuse to wear a mask subject to an £100 fine.

For those people who have been encouraging others to wear a face mask in enclosed spaces since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the decision to make them mandatory is likely a pleasant surprise. And although there is still a lot of opposition to the ruling on Twitter – with some even going as far to call face coverings “muzzles” – there’s hope that most people will follow the rules; in Scotland, where face masks became mandatory in shops last week, the majority of shoppers have been adhering to the new rules.

Wearing a face covering can help stop the spread of coronavirus because they work as a barrier to stop droplets from your mouth spreading to people around you. That doesn’t mean that people with coronavirus can go out in public if they wear a mask, though – face masks are intended to stop people who unknowingly have the virus (for example, those who are asymptomatic) from spreading the virus before they realise they have it and can self-isolate.

In this way, wearing a face mask does not protect you – but it does limit the risk of you spreading the virus to other people if you’re an asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carrier.

However, to ensure you don’t put yourself in danger by wearing your mask, it’s important that you wear it correctly. That means no fiddling with the mask while it’s on, not taking it on and off to talk to someone you bump into at the supermarket and definitely not putting it down on any surface (you can find out more about how to correctly wear a face mask by watching this World Health Organisation video).

The second – and equally crucial – part of wearing a mask is making sure you wash it properly afterwards. Many cotton face masks are reusable – compared to the medical face masks which are single-use – but to keep yourself safe while using them, you need to make sure you’re practising proper hygiene. 

So how should you go about washing and taking care of your face mask or covering? Here, laundry expert and CEO of Laundryheap Deyan Dimitrov explains how to keep our face masks safe and ready for use. 

How often should you wash your face mask?

Just like you’d wash your hands when you got back in from the supermarket, you should make sure to clean your mask, too.

“If you buy or make your own cloth face mask, it’s wise to clean it regularly,” Dimitrov explains. “Even though the face mask’s purpose is to protect others from yourself, your fabric face mask still needs washing. If you don’t wash it, you risk germs and bacteria harbouring on the face mask, which could cause you to become ill or cause blemishes on areas where your mask rests on your face.”

How should you wash your face mask?

According to Dimitrov, even though popping your mask in the washing machine is the best way to get it clean, scrubbing it by hand can also be effective, too.

“The best way to wash your face mask is to pop it in the washing machine and add some fabric-safe disinfectant to the rinse compartment of your washing machine,” he says. 

“You should do this every time you wear it, just to keep safe. It’s fine to throw it in with other similar colours, so don’t worry about washing it on its own.

“If you don’t have the time for a machine wash in the evening, then you can easily handwash your mask. Fill up a clean basin with hot water and some detergent and begin to scrub the mask. Have the water as hot as you can and be sure to scrub the mask well for 5 minutes. Then rinse the mask with cold water and leave to dry completely.”

What’s the best way to store a face mask?

Cleaning your face mask thoroughly may be incredibly important, but so too is storing it in a safe and hygienic way.

“If you take your mask off for whatever reason, make sure to store it properly until you get home to wash it,” Dimitrov says. “Leaving your mask loosely in your handbag could transfer germs to other items in your handbag and vice versa. Keep a small disposable bag inside your bag or pocket that you can keep the mask in until it’s time to wash it. If you take your mask off, don’t put it back on until after you’ve washed it.”

You could also use a clean disposable bag to store your face mask after you’ve washed it, to ensure it stays clean until you’re ready to wear it.

How many masks should you have?

If you want to avoid washing your mask every evening, it’s a good idea to have a couple on hand at any one time – you could even have a spare mask in your bag ‘just in case’ you forget your normal one.

Having two face masks means that you will always have one spare when the other’s in the wash, so it’s worth investing in a two-pack,” Dimitrov says. 

“Many fashion retailers now sell non-surgical masks so you can easily pick some up.”

Looking after our face masks and cleaning them after every use may feel a bit laborious, but it’s incredibly important that we do so. Now more than ever, practising proper hygiene by washing our hands thoroughly , disinfecting surfaces and keeping our masks clean, is crucial to curb the spread of the virus, both to yourself, and those around you.

For more information on face masks and coverings, including how they work to limit the spread of coronavirus, check out the World Health Organisation’s video guides. 

Images: Getty/Unsplash

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