Since the CDC officially recommended the use of cloth face coverings to reduce coronavirus transmission, people around the globe have been snapping up face masks—and making their own—to help keep themselves and others safe. However, just because you’re wearing a mask doesn’t necessarily mean you’re as protected as you think—experts say that cleaning your mask wrong could be doing serious harm in the long run. If you want to maintain your mask and keep your coronavirus transmission risk low, these are the mask cleaning mistakes you need to stop making immediately.
1. You’re not washing your mask on a daily basis.
The biggest mistake you’re making in caring for your face mask is not laundering it frequently enough.
Board-certified dermatologist Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Hoard University College of Medicine and medical director of Visage Dermatology and Aesthetics Center, says that cloth masks should be washed at least once a day.
“During the incubation period, an infected person does not know if they are infected, and carriers do not know that they are asymptomatic carriers. Thus, if someone is not wearing a mask and they talk to you, or cough, or sneeze, droplets can remain on your mask,” she explains.
Surin-Lord also notes that you may want to clean your mask more than once in a single day if it becomes wet or noticeably dirty, or if you’ve touched the front of your mask with unwashed hands after coming in contact with potential sources of contamination.
2. You’re not washing your mask in hot water.
Cold water may be right for your delicates, but unless the washing instructions for your cloth mask specifically say otherwise, you should be cleaning it with hot water.
“We know that, if immersed in a water temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, the hot water immersion alone would likely be sufficient” to kill coronavirus, says Rand McClain, DO, chief medical officer of LCR Health.
3. You’re not using detergent.
Baking soda and other non-detergent laundry additives have long been favored by folks with allergies and sensitive skin. However, when it comes to killing coronavirus, they simply won’t cut it.
“Soap is able to break the capsids (cell walls) of the coronavirus, effectively killing it,” explains McClain. “Just follow typical instructions on a washing machine as though you are washing your other clothes.” McClain notes that while regular detergent should be sufficient to keep your mask clean, if you want an added layer of protection, using OxyClean or other products with hydrogen peroxide can get it even closer to being fully sterilized.
4. You’re using too much bleach.
When cleaning your mask with bleach, you can definitely have too much of a good thing.
“Be careful not to use too much bleach as it can erode cloth,” cautions McClain. Luckily, even if you don’t have your own washing machine, you can effectively clean your mask by soaking it “for 60 minutes in a mixture of water and bleach in a ratio of 1 quart water to at least 5 ml of bleach,” says McClain.
5. You’re microwaving your mask.
The microwave may be capable of getting your dish sponges clean, but the same doesn’t hold true for masks, says McClain.
Putting a disposable mask or one that contains metal in the microwave can start a fire—but that doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck if those are your only mask options. While cloth masks with metal elements can typically be thrown in a washing machine and hung to dry, disposable masks can be sanitized by baking them in the oven for 30 minutes at 160 degrees Fahrenheit or holding them over boiling water for 10 minutes, says McClain. It’s not just microwave “hacks” that can lead you astray.