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How often should you wash your face mask?

How often should you wash your face mask?
(Image credit: Getty)

Now that we’re advised to wear cloth face coverings when out in public (and in any situation where social distancing isn’t easy) to slow the spread of coronavirus, we might be thinking about how often we should be washing our face masks, the best ways to do so, and how to store our face masks when not in use.

More brands are getting involved with making reusable fabric face masks, so it’s easier than ever to buy them. If you have the time and interest, it’s also easy to make your own, as we show you in our homemade face masks 101, including simple no-sew options using materials that might be lying around your home.

Ideally you’ll have a couple of face coverings in rotation, but you still need to wash them regularly and in the right way too. Thankfully, CDC guidance is clear on how often you should wash your fabric face masks and coverings: ‘Cloth face coverings should be washed after each use.’ There you go, it’s that simple. When you’ve worn your face mask, it’s time to wash it.

The CDC says it’s safe to include your face coverings with your regular laundry, and to use your normal laundry detergent and the ‘warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth used to make the face covering’. When drying, use the highest heat setting and leave to dry completely, or lay the face mask flat and let it air dry, ideally in direct sunlight.

Remember to remove your disposable filter layer and bin it safely before washing your face mask. You can read more about what coronavirus means for your laundry routine in our round-up of official health advice.

When is it safe to remove your face mask?

We wear face masks to help reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus for those around us, as some of us could be asymptomatic (we don’t show any symptoms) and might therefore unwittingly pass on the virus, or we might spread the virus before we start displaying symptoms. Other peoples’ face masks may help protect us in the same way.

According to the World Health Organization, you should keep your face mask on until you have finished your grocery shopping trip, your doctor’s visit, or your shift at work (if working outside your home). Once you are away from other people, for example, when you’re back in your car on the return journey home, then it’s safe to remove your face mask. If you’re using public transport to get around, leave your face mask on until you have completed your journey and are away from others.

To remove your face mask, the CDC advises the following:

  • Untie the strings behind your head or stretch the ear loops
  • Handle only by the ear loops or ties
  • Fold outside corners together
  • Place covering in the washing machine
  • Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing and wash hands immediately after removing.

How often should you wash your face mask: a pile of face masks made from dense materials of various prints

(Image credit: Getty)

How to store a fabric face mask

According to the Mayo Clinic, ‘Face masks should not be placed in pockets for later use. To store or transport, carefully fold the mask so the contaminated outside is folded inward and against itself. Place in a clean or new paper bag, and perform hand hygiene.’ That means using hand sanitizer if you're away from a place where you can safely wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

In an interview with CTV News, Infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said that masks are best stored in a sealed plastic bag, with the mask folded in half so that the side that sits against your mouth is facing inwards. He also advised not leaving a used face mask hanging around in your car: “The assumption is that that mask has already been used and if there is any particulate material on there, you’re allowing it to essentially waft through the inside of your vehicle.”

How many reusable face masks do you need?

Two is ideal, as then you will always have a fresh face mask ready to go when your other is being washed and dried. However, your lifestyle will determine how many face masks you need. If you’re staying at home most of the time and working from home too, you won’t need as many face masks as someone who is going out to work every day. 

However, you’ll still need a cloth face covering whenever you go to a place where it’s hard to maintain consistent social distancing (staying six feet away from other people). This includes grocery shopping trips, visiting your doctor or healthcare professional, and using public transport. 

In need of a fabric face mask and don't fancy making your own? Below are some reusable face masks in stock now for home delivery...

Reusable Cloth Mask | $12 at Casetify
Looking for an affordable reusable face mask with space for your own filter insert? Try this one, made from soft cotton and with multiple layers of fabric. Each mask comes with two disposable PM 2.5 filters, but then you can add in your own.View Deal

Purple Face Mask | $20 (Twin Pack) at Purple Sleep
Purple has taken some of the material used in its beloved bed pillows to make these soft and breathable fabric face masks. They're triple-layered and have comfy ear bands to protect your skin. Available in kids and adult sizes.
View Deal

American Mask Project | $20.81 at Amazon
These two-layer masks also follow CDC guidelines and come in a variety of prints and colors. They're made from soft, durable stretch jersey, with reinforced elastic straps and a pocket for your filter of choice.View Deal

Reusable Organic Cotton Face Mask | $30 (4-Pack) at Avocado
Organic mattress maker Avocado is currently selling a four-pack of super-soft face masks made from 100% organic cotton canvas and to CDC guidelines for personal face mask use. Available in both kids and adult sizes.View Deal

Looking for more coronavirus health content? We recently asked a doctor to answer 12 common coronavirus questions, including how face masks work, and we also spoke to a leading allergist about coronavirus symptoms vs seasonal allergies