We're all doing our best to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, including wearing masks as often as possible when we’re out and about. But, it's not just enough to wear your mask – you also need to make sure that it's clean, especially after a long day out. Let's break down the best methods for mask sanitation.
Why Do You Need to Sanitize Your Mask?
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC recommends that everyone wear masks when they are indoors and traveling, and even outdoors in some locations. People wear masks for a few reasons:
- For one, masks can stop you from accidentally spreading the coronavirus or other viruses to other individuals if you are a carrier
- For another, masks act as barriers to prevent COVID-19 or other viruses from entering your body through inhalation
Masks are physical barriers, meaning they trap a large proportion of particles on their outside and inside. This is great for general disease protection.
But, it also means that they collect a lot of bacteria and other particles over the course of a day. The outside of your mask will eventually catch particles from the breath of people near you, plus any other spare particles or bacteria that might be in the surrounding air.
At the same time, your mask’s interior layers will collect bacteria and particles from your own breath. While most of your breath is allowed to pass through the mask (since masks are actually somewhat permeable), a lot of the bacteria you naturally exhale from your mouth lands on the mask.
As you wear your mask for several hours, you can breathe more of this bacteria back in. This isn't usually an issue, but it can become a big problem if you don't regularly wash and sanitize your mask. Washing and sanitizing your mask gets rid of these bacteria and cleans your mask's fibers.
This provides a few key benefits:
- Your mask will smell and feel a lot better. No one wants to have to wear a dirty mask for hours on end, especially if you work in a position like food service. Some masks can eventually smell like their environments!
- Your mask will also protect you better from viruses if it is washed frequently. This prevents any viruses that may land on the outside of the mask from piling up or replicating over time
How to Sanitize Your Mask
The good news is that it’s easy to sanitize your mask, and you can do so at home. There are a few different methods you can use depending on the materials your mask is made of and what you have available.
Most commercial fabric masks are machine washable, and any disposable masks are obviously designed to only be worn just once before being thrown away.
Dr. Brite’s masks, for example, are made with multiple layers in order to ensure excellent breathability and protection at the same time. Specifically, we use three layers of fabric for our masks: an outer layer to protect you from viruses and bacteria, an interior filter to ensure adequate breathability, and a comfortable interlayer that gets rid of sweat and keeps your face cool.
Our masks are easy to wash in a conventional washer and dryer, which is where we’ll start.
Wash Your Mask in a Conventional Washer and Dryer
Most people can wash their masks in normal washers and dryers that they may have in their homes or at a local laundromat. Washers and dryers aren’t normally harsh enough that they should damage any regular fabric mask. Be sure to wash your mask on “hot.” This ensures that the washer will actually wash away any stains or bacteria that might have built up over the course of a day.
Throwing your mask in a dryer will also ensure that any bacteria that might be on its surfaces or inside its multiple layers is eradicated. However, it’s a good idea to put your masks in small bags that are then placed inside a commercial washer and dryer.
This prevents the straps or strings of your mask from being caught in the small vents or holes inside a washer and dryer.
Use a Steamer/Iron
However, using a washer and dryer also comes with a few setbacks. Washers and dryers may take up to several hours to fully clean and dry your mask(s), and you might not want to waste a lot of detergent and water on a single fabric item.
Since the CDC recommends that you wash your mask after every use, it’s easy to see how that method isn’t very convenient.
Want a better solution? Try steaming or ironing your masks using a regular home iron and board.
A hot water steamer or iron essentially heats water up to its evaporation point, producing steam. This means that the water is at a high enough temperature to destroy most types of bacteria, including COVID-19, if they’re on the surface of your mask.
You can easily steam or iron your mask the way you would iron any other piece of fabric. Just place it on an ironing board, steam the mask a few times on either side, and you’ll be good to go! This also does wonders for getting rid of other types of bacteria and for eliminating odors in your mask: a key concern since our breath tends to make our masks smell pretty bad after even a single use.
Best of all, you can steam your mask in just a few minutes, so it’s quite possible to do this every day without wasting a lot of water or having to wait for hours on end.
The only downside is that your mask may be a little wet after ironing it properly. But there’s another technique you should use to sanitize your mask that can also solve that problem.
Let Your Mask Sit in the Sun
Look for a spot in your home or apartment that gets a lot of sunlight. Then set any masks you have in the sun for between one and two hours per side.
You see, the sun produces ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This radiation is anathema to bacteria and viruses like COVID-19. This makes it a perfect tool for getting rid of any last bacterial cells that might have survived your ironing session, as well as drying your mask at the same time.
It’s a good idea to let your masks sit in the sun whenever possible. This prevents bacteria from growing in their fibers and dries them out if they’re wet. It does take a little while, of course, so you can always combine the ironing method with a conventional dryer if you need to get your mask cleaned and dried fast so you can go to work.
Ultimately, it’s an excellent idea to use all three methods when appropriate. For instance, while ironing or steaming your mask is the best day-to-day sanitation method for keeping your mask clean, it’s not the best for getting rid of deep stains or odors.
That’s why you should still use a conventional washer and dryer at least once per week. A good rule of thumb is to have multiple masks on hand so you can switch between them based on their soil levels. This way, you can always wear a mask that isn’t too dirty or smelly and can still protect yourself and other people as you go out.
In fact, this is the reason we sell our face masks in packs of 2 and 4.
How Often Do You Need to Sanitize Your Mask?
The CDC recommends that you sanitize your mask after every use. This is a bit much in practice – after all, do you really need to sanitize your mask after running into the store for five minutes? Our advice is to use common sense.
For instance, if you use your mask for only a short while but go to a crowded grocery store, it’s probably a good idea to sanitize your mask using the steaming and ironing method above right away. This prevents you from inhaling any particles that might have landed on your mask just from being around other people.
On the other hand, if you just wear your mask for a quick walk around the block and don’t pass anyone, you probably don’t need to sanitize your mask right away.
Regardless, be sure to sanitize your masks at least once per day if you use them, especially if you go to work or spend a lot of time out of the house.
In the end, sanitizing your face mask is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Most people should be able to incorporate regular mask sanitation into their daily routines without too much trouble.