7 Signs You Need to Replace Your Face Mask ASAP

If you want to stay safe, it's essential you know when to get new protective gear.

If you've leaving your house amid the coronavirus pandemic, there's a good chance you're wearing a mask. And while that might be making you feel like you're protecting yourself from the virus, there's a major difference between wearing a mask and wearing a mask safely. Sometimes that means realizing that your current protective gear just isn't cutting it, and that it's time to replace your face mask as soon as you're able.

Because the CDC has officially recommended that Americans wear cloth face coverings when out in public to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, it's important to follow those guidelines while also being smart about the mask you're wearing. If you want to protect your health and the health of others, here are the signs you need a new face mask immediately.

Your mask is ripped or torn.

torn surgical mask
Shutterstock/Dmitriev Mikhail

Masks can only provide you and others adequate protection if they're intact. "If you see visible holes, or even just wear-and-tear in your mask, consider that mask done," says pediatrician Cara Natterson, MD, author of Decoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons.

"The whole point of a mask is to provide a physical barrier to keep the virus out, or if you are carrying coronavirus, to keep it in and spare others the exposure," explains Natterson, noting that holes allow the virus to come and go. And to find out if you're in a high-risk population, make sure you know these 10 Things That Increase Your Risk of Coronavirus Complications.

You've touched your mask after touching a potentially contaminated surface.

young white woman shopping while wearing mask
Shutterstock/Maria Sbytova

If you've touched a potentially contaminated surface—the handle of a shopping cart or a doorknob, for instance—and then touched any part of your face mask other than the straps, you'd be wise to treat the mask as a contaminated surface, too.

"The more often you head out, or the more crowded an area you visit, the more you should think about tossing your mask into the laundry when you get home. And if you're on the fence, just wash it!" says Natterson. And if you want to sanitize your space, learn these 15 Expert Tips for Disinfecting Your House for Coronavirus.

You've recently cared for someone sick.

young doctor or nurse taking care of elderly white man with coronavirus
Shutterstock/Yuganov Konstantin

If a member of your household or someone you've cared for in a professional capacity has coronavirus or is suspected to have the virus, it's time to wash your mask or replace your disposable one. According to the CDC, porous items like cloth masks should be laundered on the highest appropriate setting and then dried completely.

You wore your mask while you had coronavirus symptoms.

young white woman working from home wearing mask

While there's evidence to suggest that coronavirus can only survive a few days on surfaces at most, if you've recently had coronavirus—or suspect that you did—it's in your best interest to replace your disposable mask or wash your cloth one to keep yourself and others safe.

You've recently touched your mask after coughing or sneezing.

older asian man wearing face mask and coughing

Coronavirus is spread through respiratory secretions, meaning you can easily transfer it via a sneeze or cough. If you've recently touched your mask after coughing or sneezing into your hands before you had a chance to wash them, it's time to throw it in the washing machine—or throw it out, if it's a disposable one. This is true even if you don't know you're sick: A significant proportion of people with coronavirus are asymptomatic. And if you want to stay safe amid the pandemic, check out these 13 Actual Facts That Debunk Common Coronavirus Myths.

Your mask doesn't adequately cover your mouth and nose.

30-something asian woman wearing face mask without it covering her nose

It's not just your mouth that needs to stay covered to keep you and others safe—your nose should be covered, too. If your mask doesn't fit your face well enough to keep both your mouth and nose covered (and preferably your chin, too), it's time to get a new one.

Your mask is made from only a single layer.

white woman on cell phone wearing cloth face mask

While that face mask you made at home might be neatly stitched, if it's got just one layer of fabric, it's not offering the level of protection you need. According to the CDC, in order to adequately protect you and others, masks need to have multiple layers of fabric—if yours doesn't, it's time to get a new one.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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