Updated 20 October: Although it’s been nearly three months after face masks become compulsory in shops and supermarkets across England, new data from YouGov has revealed that the majority of us still aren’t using them correctly.
On top of the fact that over half (56%) of those who choose to wear single-use face masks are wearing them more than once when official guidance says to dispose of them straight away, only 32% of reusable mask wearers are washing their mask often enough.
So what is the correct way to use, wash and store a reusable face mask? We asked an expert to explain.
As reported 27 July: Wearing a face covering can help stop the spread of coronavirus because they work as a barrier to stop droplets from your mouth spreading to people around you.
That doesn’t mean that people with coronavirus can go out in public if they wear a mask, though – face masks are intended to stop people who unknowingly have the virus (for example, those who are asymptomatic) from spreading the virus before they realise they have it and can self-isolate.
In this way, wearing a face mask does not protect you – but it does limit the risk of you spreading the virus to other people if you’re an asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carrier.
However, to ensure you don’t put yourself in danger by wearing your mask, it’s important that you wear it correctly. That means no fiddling with the mask while it’s on, not taking it on and off to talk to someone you bump into at the supermarket and definitely not putting it down on any surface (you can find out more about how to correctly wear a face mask by watching this World Health Organisation video).
The second – and equally crucial – part of wearing a mask is making sure you wash it properly afterwards. Many cotton face masks are reusable – compared to the medical-style face masks which are single-use – but to keep yourself safe while using them, you need to make sure you’re practising proper hygiene.
So how should you go about washing and taking care of your face mask or covering? Here, laundry expert and CEO of Laundryheap Deyan Dimitrov explains how to keep our face masks clean and safe.
How often should you wash your face mask?
Just like you’d wash your hands when you got back in from the supermarket, you should make sure to clean your mask, too.
“If you buy or make your own cloth face mask, it’s wise to clean it regularly,” Dimitrov explains. “Even though the face mask’s purpose is to protect others from yourself, your fabric face mask still needs washing. If you don’t wash it, you risk germs and bacteria harbouring on the face mask, which could cause you to become ill or cause blemishes on areas where your mask rests on your face.”
How should you wash your face mask?
According to Dimitrov, even though popping your mask in the washing machine is the best way to get it clean, scrubbing it by hand can also be effective, too.
“The best way to wash your face mask is to pop it in the washing machine and add some fabric-safe disinfectant to the rinse compartment of your washing machine,” he says.
“You should do this every time you wear it, just to keep safe. It’s fine to throw it in with other similar colours, so don’t worry about washing it on its own.
“If you don’t have the time for a machine wash in the evening, then you can easily handwash your mask. Fill up a clean basin with hot water and some detergent and begin to scrub the mask. Have the water as hot as you can and be sure to scrub the mask well for 5 minutes. Then rinse the mask with cold water and leave to dry completely.”
What’s the best way to store a face mask?
Cleaning your face mask thoroughly may be incredibly important, but so too is storing it in a safe and hygienic way.
“If you take your mask off for whatever reason, make sure to store it properly until you get home to wash it,” Dimitrov says. “Leaving your mask loosely in your handbag could transfer germs to other items in your handbag and vice versa. Keep a small disposable bag inside your bag or pocket that you can keep the mask in until it’s time to wash it. If you take your mask off, don’t put it back on until after you’ve washed it.”
You could also use a clean disposable bag to store your face mask after you’ve washed it, to ensure it stays clean until you’re ready to wear it.
How many masks should you have?
If you want to avoid washing your mask every evening, it’s a good idea to have a couple on hand at any one time – you could even have a spare mask in your bag ‘just in case’ you forget your normal one.
Having two face masks means that you will always have one spare when the other’s in the wash, so it’s worth investing in a two-pack,” Dimitrov says.
“Many fashion retailers now sell non-surgical masks so you can easily pick some up.”
Looking after our face masks and cleaning them after every use may feel a bit laborious, but it’s incredibly important that we do so. Now more than ever, practising proper hygiene by washing our hands thoroughly , disinfecting surfaces and keeping our masks clean, is crucial to curb the spread of the virus, both to yourself, and those around you.
For more information on face masks and coverings, including how they work to limit the spread of coronavirus, check out the World Health Organisation’s video guides.