While disposable masks are good for one-time use, you can rewear certain face masks over and over again (or until the coronavirus pandemic has passed) as long as you wash them on a regular basis.
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The CDC recently updated its guidance on wearing face masks, suggesting civilians (or non-medical workers) protect their mouth and nose with some type of cloth covering while running essential errands. Hot spot areas have even mandated the use of face masks. In parts of California, residents must not leave home without one. Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a similar statement for people in New York, saying “it couldn’t hurt.”
So should you wear a face mask? Yes, if you have one and you’re outside of your home to get groceries, gas or anything else within the social distancing guidelines of your area. And if you know how to clean a face mask properly, of course.
Surgical-grade coverings, better known as N95 masks, should only be used by healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of the coronavirus battle. If you bought N95s up months ago, consider donating to local hospitals and using a non-medical version made of a washable material like cotton. That way you can wear the same mask several times, which is better for both the environment and your pocketbook.
Whether you bought a face mask online or crafted your own at home, you’ll need to keep it clean in order for it to be an effective measure against airborne virus particles. After you’ve worn it outside, wash it before the next time you’ll be in public settings where you could come into contact with germs.
Assuming you’re not leaving your house often, a weekly wash will suffice for most people, according to the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases in Bethesda. But you should wash your mask immediately if you’ve been near someone with coronavirus symptoms.
Review our coronavirus tips for staying safe before leaving your home, and see where coronavirus drive-through testing is available in your state in case you or someone you care for shows symptoms of illness.
How to clean a face mask
The CDC or WHO — the leading health authorities during the coronavirus pandemic — have not issued instructions about how to clean a face mask. There’s no standard method or single answer, so here are a few different ways to wash your face mask at home.
How to clean a face mask with soap and water
If you have sensitive or oily complexion, you’ll want to clean your face mask often to prevent the fabric from irritating your skin with dirt and other elements. ResMed recommends rinsing your mask in warm (around 80 degrees,) soapy water, making sure you wash all parts of the fabric and elastic without soaking the mask through. Let your mask dry naturally on a disinfected surface.
How to clean a face mask in a washing machine
The California Department of Health suggests cleaning your face mask in your washing machine as you would your clothes. (We can recommend some of the best washing machines if you're in the market for one.)
If you’re going to throw your used face mask in the laundry with the rest of your garments, considering putting it in a delicate bag or other small mesh bag first. Wash your face mask with detergent and hot water, and then put it in the dryer on a hot cycle.
How to clean a face mask with mask wipes
This method isn’t preferred for cloth face masks, but for times when you can’t get to a sink or washing machine, you can use a special kind of sanitizing wipe designed for CPAP face masks. CPAP Mask Wipes are 100% cotton cleaning wipes designed for daily use. They are alcohol and solvent free, meaning they’re safe for your skin. When used on your face covering, a CPAP mask wipe should kill bacteria and other germs as a last resort; you should still wash your mask with soap or in the laundry as soon as you get a chance.
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Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.