Your Face Mask Is Only Protecting You If You Do This Every Day

Donning your PPE is always a good idea, but it won't keep you safe unless you do this.

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At this point in the coronavirus pandemic, it's clear that wearing a mask, along with social distancing and regular hand washing, is instrumental in stopping the spread of COVID-19. But just because you're covering your face every time you go out in public doesn't mean you're completely safe. According to new research, your cloth face mask is only protecting you if you wash it every day. Read on to find out more, and for additional guidance on this, The CDC Says You're Probably Not Washing Your Face Mask Enough.

The discovery comes from a recent meta-analysis that was published in BMJ Open, which analyzed data from a 2015 study on the effectiveness of cloth face coverings against the seasonal flu, cold viruses known as rhinoviruses, and genetically similar coronaviruses. The original study found that cloth masks "were not as effective as surgical masks in a hospital setting and that they potentially increased the risk of infection when compared with wearing no mask at all." But the latest team of researchers, from the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales at Sydney, believes that the way in which cloth masks were washed in the original study made them more likely to infect the person wearing them.

"Both cloth masks and surgical masks should be considered 'contaminated' after use," Raina MacIntyre, PhD, who conducted the study, said in a statement. "Unlike surgical masks, which are disposed of after use, cloth masks are re-used. While it can be tempting to use the same mask for multiple days in a row, or to give it a quick hand-wash or wipe-over, our research suggests that this increases the risk of contamination."

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The study also concluded that there was statistically no difference in protection for healthcare workers who wore cloth masks instead of surgical masks. "We found that if cloth masks were washed in the hospital laundry, they were as effective as a surgical mask," MacIntyre said.

"While someone from the general public wearing a cloth mask is unlikely to come into contact with the same amount of pathogens as healthcare worker in a high risk ward, we would still recommended daily washing of cloth masks in the community," MacIntyre explained.

For more on the mask maintenance mistakes you're still making, read on. And if you think you might have caught the virus, know that If You Can't Smell These 2 Things, You May Have COVID.

1
You're not washing your mask in hot water.

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Save the cold water for your delicates. Unless the washing instructions for your cloth mask specifically say otherwise, you should be cleaning it with hot water. "We know that, if immersed in a water temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, the hot water immersion alone would likely be sufficient" to kill coronavirus, Rand McClain, DO, chief medical officer of LCR Health, previously told Best Life. And for more on when you need your PPE, here's The One Situation You're Not Wearing Your Mask, But You Should Be.

2
You're forgetting to use detergent.

Putting detergent in the washing machine

If you've been using baking soda or any other non-detergent laundry additives due to allergies or sensitive skin, that may not be cutting it. "Soap is able to break the capsids (cell walls) of the coronavirus, effectively killing it," explains McClain. "Just follow typical instructions on a washing machine as though you are washing your other clothes."

McClain notes that while regular detergent should be sufficient to keep your mask clean, using OxyClean or other products with hydrogen peroxide can get your mask closer to being fully sterilized. And for more behavior that's putting you in jeopardy, familiarize yourself with the Things You're Doing Every Day That Put You at COVID Risk.

3
You're using bleach.

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Despite being the cleaning powerhouse that it is, going full force with bleach isn't ideal when it comes to washing your mask. The New York Times reports that harsh chemicals like bleach and hydrogen peroxide can degrade the fabric fibers in your mask over time, making them less effective at containing viral particles.

4
You're microwaving your mask to sanitize it.

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Shutterstock/Zyn Chakrapong

Sure, it might be great for cleaning your sponges, but using your home microwave to zap your mask isn't a good disinfecting strategy. In fact, if your mask has metal wire inside on the nose strip, doing so can even be a fire risk.

However, the good news is that there are other options besides throwing them in the washing machine, including baking them in the oven for 30 minutes at 160 degrees Fahrenheit or holding them over boiling water for 10 minutes, says McClain. And for another sign to be aware of, This One "Wacky" Symptom Means You Have COVID, Not the Flu.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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