You're Probably Not Washing Your Face Mask Enough, According to the CDC

If you're washing it weekly, you could be putting yourself and others at risk.

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Coronavirus has many people rethinking their daily cleaning routines, whether they're spraying their packages with antibacterial cleansers before bringing them inside or using hand sanitizer after they touch pretty much anything. However, there's one major oversight you might be making that could put your health—and the health of others—at risk: not washing your mask enough.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cloth face coverings should be washed after every single use, whether by hand or in a washing machine. However, not all methods of mask-washing are created equal from a germ-killing perspective.

So, how should you be cleaning your mask? The CDC recommends using your usual laundry detergent and tossing your mask in with your laundry, using the highest temperature wash appropriate for the mask. This should be followed up by a high-heat dry cycle until the mask is thoroughly dry. If your mask can't be dried in a hot air dryer, the CDC suggests thoroughly air drying it, using direct sunlight when possible.

cloth face masks drying on clothesline amid coronavirus pandemic
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If you're hand-washing your mask, bleach is your best bet for getting it thoroughly clean and germ-free. The CDC recommends making a solution of four tablespoons of bleach per quart of water or five tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water. However, the agency notes that some kinds of bleach, like those labeled "color-safe," may not adequately disinfect fabric.

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Even if you're washing your face mask every time you return home from an outing, there are still plenty of ways you could be inadvertently contaminating it or otherwise rendering it useless throughout the day. Masks are only effective against the spread of coronavirus if they cover both your mouth and your nose, and if you need to put your mask on or remove it during the day, the CDC recommends touching only the elastic that goes over your ears or the back of your head to do so.

Of course, all those precautions aside, your mask is only as clean as the hands you're touching it with. This means you should scrub those hands thoroughly before putting your mask on or taking it off, taking extra care to avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes as you do. And for more on face mask use, This Is Who Is Actually the Least Likely to Wear a Mask.

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