7 Face Mask Care Mistakes You're Making

From letting your face mask get wet to putting it in the dryer, avoid these common mistakes.

Face masks have become a normal part of life during the coronavirus pandemic because they can help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Many states have even issued requirements for wearing face masks when out in public. However, as most people are not used to wearing or caring for face masks, there is plenty of room for error. And unfortunately, these mistakes could be making your face mask less effective in protecting you from the coronavirus. Talking to experts, we gathered all the face mask care mistakes you need to watch out for. And if you're in need of something to cover your face with ASAP, here are 5 Household Items to Use as Face Mask Alternatives.

You're putting your mask in the dryer.

View Looking Out From Inside Washing Machine As Man Does White Laundry

What's the quickest way to ruin your face mask? Throw it in the dryer, according to board-certified dermatologist Anna Guanche, MD. While you should be regularly washing your mask, which can be done in a washing machine, your mask cannot go into the dryer. Instead, Guanche says you should let your mask "air dry in the sun." And for more tips on decontamination, find out How Experts Say You Should Clean Your Phone to Stop Coronavirus Spread.

You're setting your mask down anywhere.

A protective surgical mask.

Your face mask can easily be contaminated on the outside, so Dimitar Marinov, MD, a medical expert working on the control and prevention of infectious diseases, says you "should be very careful" about where you leave your mask.

"This creates the risk for cross-contamination of various surfaces and spreading the virus," he explains.

You're storing your mask in a plastic bag.

plastic baggies for refrigerating food

Many people aren't exactly sure where to store their mask when they're not wearing it. But Ashley Roxanne Peterson, DO, a resident physician in Atlanta, Georgia, says a plastic bag is not the answer.

"Many people are inappropriately storing their masks in plastic bags when it should be paper bags to increase the breathability of the storage bag and reduce infectious growth," she says.

You're touching your mask with dirty hands.

Portrait of young woman putting on a protective mask for coronavirus isolation

While you should be washing your hands more often than usual right now, you definitely need to wash your hands immediately before and after you touch your face mask, says Marinov. However, even with clean hands, you should "never touch the inside or outside of your mask," and instead remove it and put it on using the ties or bands. And for more habits to avoid, check out these 15 Seemingly Innocuous Habits That Increase Coronavirus Risk.

You're letting your mask get wet.

Young woman shows self-made mask to protect against virus and bacteria

While you can and should wash your cloth face masks, you should have multiple masks on hand to allow a full day for your washed mask to dry. A wet face mask is significantly less effective than a dry face mask, Shan Soe-Lin, a lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, told The New York Times. If you only have one mask, she recommends washing your face mask in the evening and leaving it to air-dry overnight. And for more ways to keep yourself healthy, learn these 15 Ways to Protect Yourself From Coronavirus at Home.

Or you're storing your mask in a moist environment.

Fabric mask on the background of a sewing machine

Even if you're taking all the necessary steps to keep your mask away from liquids, the environment you're placing your mask in could be causing you problems.

"Store your mask in a clean environment, not in an enclosed moist environment where bacteria can continue to grow," Guanche says. Areas like kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms can be extra susceptible to moisture through cooking, bathing, and clothes drying, so try to avoid keeping your mask in these rooms.

You're washing your mask with cold water.

woman choosing washing cycle

You're not just cleaning your mask to remove any stains. You should be sanitizing it to kill the virus, which requires the use of hot water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to "launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting," if possible. If hand washing, use hot water. Whatever washing method you use, know that the colder your water, the less effective it is at sanitizing your mask.

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