A Doctor Explains How to Properly Clean Cloth Face Masks to Keep Germs at Bay

Hedy Phillips
Self-sewn face mask freshly washed to protect against viruses and bacteria
Self-sewn face mask freshly washed to protect against viruses and bacteria

Now that the Centers For Disease Control is recommending wearing cloth face masks in public amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it's important to know not only where to get them (or how to make them), but also how to take care of them. POPSUGAR spoke with Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH, senior medical director at WebMD, about how to properly clean the fabric to ensure you're protecting yourself from the virus.

How Often Should I Wash a Cloth Face Mask?

Wash the mask every time you wear it. As soon as you get in from being outside, put the mask directly into your sink or washing machine - or if you can't wash it right away, seal it in a plastic bag until you can. Dr. Cassoobhoy also stressed the importance of not letting the mask touch your eyes, nose, or mouth while you're taking it off, just in case it's been contaminated. This means being very careful when removing it and then properly washing your hands immediately afterward.

Related: Coronavirus: Should You Wear a Face Mask When You Run? Here's What a Doctor Says

Coronavirus: Should I Wear a Face Mask on Outdoor Runs?
Coronavirus: Should I Wear a Face Mask on Outdoor Runs?

How to Properly Clean Your Face Mask

The CDC recommends using a washing machine to clean your face mask. Throw the mask in on the hottest setting and wash it with regular laundry detergent. "If your mask has elastic bands, let it air dry and then iron it. If the ties are cloth you can use the dryer," Dr. Cassoobhoy told POPSUGAR.

If you don't have access to a washing machine, soak your mask in a bleach solution (consisting of just room-temperature water and bleach) for five minutes before rinsing. Let it air dry and iron it.

An important step in the process is then sanitizing everything afterward. Wash your hands and sanitize the sink and whatever you soaked the mask in. After your mask is clean, store it in a clean, sealed plastic bag until you're ready to wear it again. Also, keep in mind that microwaving a fabric face mask will not sufficiently sanitize it, nor will using UV light. You have to wash it at a high temperature with soap.

POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.

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