Washing your face mask: A step-by-step guide

With face mask mania taking over the country and most suppliers now sold out, many Kiwis will be rocking a reusable face mask when out and about in the coming weeks. 

But if you're wearing your mask every day, grime and bacteria can build up - not to mention the airborne saliva particles it's containing. 

This can lead to acne, irritations and even spreading of the virus we're trying to protect against, so it's best to be taking care of your mask with regular washing. 

According to Dr Lisa Maragakis from Johns Hopkins University in the US, it's a good idea to have at least two reusable face masks so you have a fresh one to wear if the other is being washed.

She also adds it's important to note that the blue, disposable surgical masks many of us have been using shouldn't be washed and reused and instead should be thrown away immediately after using. 

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has penned an effective guide to washing your face mask:

Using a washing machine:

You can include your mask with your regular laundry. Use regular laundry detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth used to make the mask. Keep in mind many filters aren't supposed to be resued, so if you're washing repeatedly, it might decrease the effectiveness. 

Washing by hand: 

If you're washing a delicate, hand-sewn mask, it's best to wash it by hand. For a more gentle wash, scrub the mask with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. 

For a more robust hand wash:

  • Prepare a bleach solution by mixing four teaspoons household bleach per litre of room temperature water
  • Check the label to see if your bleach is intended for disinfection. Some bleach products, such as those designed for safe use on coloured clothing, may not be suitable for disinfection. 
  • Ensure the bleach product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.
  • Soak the mask in the bleach solution for five minutes.
  • Rinse thoroughly with cool or room temperature water.

How to dry: 

Make sure to completely dry mask after washing.

  • If using a dryer, turn it up to the highest heat setting and leave in the dryer until completely dry.
  • If air drying, lay flat and allow to completely dry. If possible, place the mask in direct sunlight.

While there are some other cleaning methods floating around the internet that suggest sanitising face masks by sticking them in the microwave, oven, or a pot of boiling water, experts don't recommend them and say they're nowhere near as effective as standard washing and drying.