The No. 1 Way to Store Your Face Mask, According to a Doctor
Proper storage is essential for your mask to remain effective at protecting against COVID-19.
Wearing face masks has become the new normal in the United States and around the world during the coronavirus pandemic, with some states even making it mandatory for residents to wear them while out in public. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these pieces of protective equipment are strongly recommended as a method to help slow the spread of COVID-19. However, this does not mean that masks themselves are immune to contamination, which is why experts say the way in which you handle, wear, and store them is so important to their ability to provide protection.
"The best material to store your mask in is something that most people can easily buy and find: a paper lunch bag," says Ashley Roxanne, DO, a resident physician in Atlanta, Georgia. "Paper bags are more breathable than most other containers, which makes them a less favorable environment for microbes."
According to Roxanne, however, some people are making the mistake of using plastic bags, which are "less porous and lock in any infectious material without clean, new air moving into or out of the bag." Though she does acknowledge that plastic isn't entirely ineffective.
"A paper bag is best and the current CDC recommendation, but a plastic Ziploc bag, like what you put a sandwich in, is okay and better than no protection—or placing the mask in your purse or pocket," she explains. "If you cannot obtain a paper bag, then consider a plastic bag with a zipper seal to let air in and out."
Roxanne says properly storing your face mask is important not only for health reasons, but it affords you the option to reuse your mask and avoid the expense of constantly replacing it, which can become costly after a while.
"Reusing your mask is a good idea to make the most of supplies and can be done if stored correctly and used correctly," she says. "For example, N95 masks can be reused about five times without difficulty if stored and used as directed."
The correct storage method, however, isn't simply tossing your mask in a paper bag haphazardly after removing it from your face. According to Roxanne, your mask should be folded to reduce how much of the "outside portion touches the bag." Then, place it in the "middle of the bag with the front portion angled to the top of the bag." Finally, store the paper bag containing your mask in a dry, temperature-controlled area where it doesn't run the risk of being tempered with or compromised.
"Many people leave their masks in their cars that are not temperature controlled and that can lead to condensation and moisture building in the bag," Roxanne says. "If the mask gets wet, it may no longer be as advantageous and will need inspection for damage." And for more tips on how to ensure the effectiveness of your PPE, check out the 7 Precautions You Must Take Before Wearing a Mask.