Face Masks: Tips on How to Clean, Disinfect and When to Throw Away

Woman in face mask

Now that wearing a face mask or facial covering is part of our normal everyday life as we combat coronavirus, you probably have questions about how to properly clean and disinfect them and how to know when it is time to throw then away.

Nurse educator Jade Flinn, who specializes in personal protective equipment (PPE) at Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine, spoke to Apartment Therapy and shared these important tips about face masks.

How often should I switch out my mask?

“I always recommend that you change your mask like you change your underwear: daily,” she says.

How should I launder my cloth masks properly?

She says you can wash them in a washing machine, but says to wash them separate from your other clothes and choose the hottest water and hottest drying temperature while using regular detergent. She notes it is important to be mindful about which areas of the mask you are touching when putting it on and removing it and says you should consider the outside of the mask and your hands soiled after using it in public.

Read: Coronavirus Found in Tears?

Can surgical masks and N-95 respirators be disinfected?

She says they can be, but they are not to be placed in the washing machine. She says it best to hang them to dry or place inside a paper bag for at least 72 hours. She explains that paper is key as it is breathable and stresses to not to put them in a plastic bag.

Is sunlight and UV rays a good way to disinfect a mask?

While UV light can be used to kill pathogens, Jade notes this not ideal, saying, "There’s a piece of foam at the bridge of the nose, which could disintegrate in sunlight."

Read: Syndrome Related to COVID Affecting Kids?

What about using a steamer to clean a mask?

This could technically be effective, but the PPE specialist notes that each steamer is different and there is no certain way to know if the settings are hot enough to truly kill the virus. She says a safer and more effective choice would be the washing machine.

Watch: Dr. Ordon Shares His Experience with COVID-19

What are the signs that it is time to throw out a face mask?

According to Jade if your mask has any of the following issues:

  • Visibly soiled
  • Signs of wear and tear on the mask's fibers
  • Damaged in any way, including the ear loops

Then it is time to toss it and start using a new mask.

She also notes to dispose of them in a trash can with a lid, preferably in your home, or immediately disposing of it in an outside garbage can. This will prevent re-aerosolization if the trash can is knocked over or disturbed. Also, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after disposing of your mask.

*Get more resources, tips, advice, and news on coronavirus/COVID-19 from The Doctors and stay informed on the latest information on the coronavirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization and learn about prevention methods and what to do if you are infected.

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