This Is the Worst Thing You Could Use to Wash Your Face Mask

There are better ways to disinfect, without damaging your mask.

Worn properly, a face mask can be an essential tool in stopping coronavirus transmission—but failing to clean your DIY mask properly can bring germs dangerously close to your face, all but defeating the purpose. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you should wash your cloth face mask daily, either with a washing machine or by hand, following it up with a run through the dryer. But beware: there's one thing you shouldn't do while washing if you want to keep your mask in tip-top shape.

According to The New York Times, you should never use bleach when washing your cloth masks—no matter how tempting it may be to disinfect it with something so notoriously powerful. That's because harsh chemicals like bleach and hydrogen peroxide can degrade the fabric fibers over time, making them less effective at containing viral particles. Whatever perceived benefit you might imagine is the result of disinfecting with bleach goes completely out the window if your fibers are thinning, and allowing more virus in next time.

For those concerned that standard laundry detergent might not be strong enough to kill the virus, the article offered this encouraging response: once viral particles are trapped by the mask, they immediately begin to die off since they are unable to replicate outside of the body.

Even if that were not the case, most will rinse off in the wash cycle, and all should be completely obliterated by the time your mask comes out of the dryer. As researchers have pointed out, drying your clothes on a high setting (which runs about 130 degrees Fahrenheit on your typical home dryer) will kill coronavirus in just 20 minutes. Not sure if your dryer gets that hot? You can always run an iron over your mask to be 100 percent sure you're safe.

Finally, if you've been using bleach or other harsh chemicals on your cloth mask over these last few months, it may be time to reinvest in a few new masks (or have a date with your sewing machine). Just be sure, going forward, to treat your masks with care by washing them with a gentle laundry detergent that'll keep your mask's fibers intact. And for more on masks, find out why These Four States Made Face Masks Mandatory This Week.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more