For many of us, face masks are now a part of our ‘outfit of the day’! Although they are no longer compulsory in some countries, people still choose to wear a mask when they go out to protect themselves (and others) from the coronavirus.
Because they are used frequently (some on a daily basis), face masks accumulate dirt and bacteria, making them unsanitary to use if not cleaned and disinfected. For these reasons, washing your reusable face mask regularly a must! More so because the fabric is exposed to potential viruses such as COVID-19, thus increasing the risk of contracting the disease if your mask is not washed and sterilised correctly. To be on the ‘safe side’, some prefer to use disposable masks that are in no way favourable for the environment, nor are they economical. These surgical masks are also often in short supply which is an ongoing problem for essential workers who need them most.
Now, getting back to the reusable types of face masks or face coverings, it is important to understand the effectiveness of each option in order to choose one that will provide maximum protection against contracting the coronavirus or spreading it to others.
What are the Best Reusable Face Masks?
Reusable face masks are made from cloth, however, it is their construction and the coverage they provide that determine how effective they truly are. So, before we get to the instructions on how to wash your mask, let’s look at the best reusable face masks out there.
Double Layered Face Masks
These masks are more effective than single-ply face masks because they are constructed with two layers of fabric. When the wearer sneezes or coughs, at least 90% – 100% of droplets are contained within the mask (depending on the fit). Typically equipped with elastic loops to go around the ears, and a wire stitched between the layers of material for a better fit over the nose, double layered face masks are more effective than surgical face masks because they are thicker.
Triple Layered Face Masks
Among the various types of reusable face masks available in the market, medical experts highly recommend triple layered masks due to their all round effectiveness in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The three layers of fabrics and their clever construction ensure that wearers do not expel germs (when exhaling, coughing, or sneezing), or contract airborne viruses when breathing in. Although they are not as breathable as single-ply and two-ply face masks, triple layered cloth masks are the clear winner among other types of face coverings as far as fulfilling their purpose is concerned.
Reusable Face Masks/Coverings to Avoid
Along with single-ply masks that are thin and rarely effective in catching droplets, there are other types of face masks/coverings you will see being used by many individuals which are deemed 50% – 90% ineffective by medical experts. Let’s take a look at some of them below.
One-Way Valve Masks
If you don’t know how face masks with a one-way valve work, they are intended to filter the air you breathe in while keeping trapped moisture in the mask to a minimum. Unfortunately, these masks allow droplets to escape when exhaling (thanks to the one-way valve), thereby increasing the potential spread of the coronavirus if worn by carriers.
There are very obvious reasons as to why bandanas are not an ideal face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For starters, even though the material is usually folded and then tied, it is still very thin and ineffective in catching droplets. Even worse, the bottom is completely open, thus exposing the wearer to airborne droplets, and others to contaminated germs being expelled.
Because gaiter masks must be flexible in order to be pulled up over the mouth and nose, as well as to maximise comfort when worn, the stretched material widens the holes between the weave which allows droplets to pass through. In general, any fabric that loosens the weave of the material by way of stretching is ineffective in catching droplets.
How to Wash a Reusable Cloth Mask
Cleaning and disinfecting your reusable face mask is rather simple. This can either be done by hand or in the washer, however, there are some do’s and don’ts to be followed in order to effectively sanitise your cloth face mask. Read on for instructions on how to carry out these methods the right way.
Washing Your Face Mask by Hand
Cleaning and disinfecting a cloth face mask is more convenient and effective when done in a washing machine because the washer does all the work for you, however, washing your face mask by hand is not difficult. As long as you don’t stray away from this step-by-step method, you can rest assured that your reusable mask will be clean, sanitary, and ready to use again!
Put on a pair of disposable gloves and follow the steps below:
Step 1: Boil 1-2 litres of water and pour it into a heat resistant bowl.
Step 2: Add 3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide to the water and stir the solution for 10 – 20 seconds to dissolve the ingredient.
Step 3: Soak the cloth mask in your homemade disinfectant for 10 – 15 minutes. Use the spoon to move the mask around every few minutes to help loosen/dislodge dirt that is clinging to the material.
Step 4: Take the mask out of the cleaning solution, discard the water, and wash the bowl thoroughly with soap and water.
Step 5: Gently scrub the fabric with your hands to remove dirt. Alternatively, you can rub the left and right sides of the mask together to create friction which, in turn, will release dirt from the fabric. Be sure to scrub the loops too as they tend to get discoloured and dirty with sweat and pollution.
Step 6: Dunk the fabric mask in a bowl of fresh (plain) water to remove some of the cleaning solution. Follow this up with a thorough rinse under running water.
Step 7: Gently squeeze your washed face mask to remove excess water, and hang it out to dry in the sun.
Tips to Wash a Face Mask in the Washer
Yes, it’s a lot easier to wash your cloth face mask with the rest of your laundry, however, you can’t be certain that the material has been cleaned and sanitised properly unless you apply the right method.
Here are some key tips on how to wash a reusable face mask in the washer:
- Always wash cloth face masks using the highest water temperature as heat is an effective way to kill bacteria and sanitise fabric
- Avoid chemical-based laundry detergents as any residue they leave behind on your mask can cause allergic reactions when wearing it
- As an eco-friendly alternative, add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to the load of laundry you are washing along with your face mask
- Place cloth masks in a mesh bag (the kind used for delicates or innerwear) when washing in a washer
- To ensure complete sterilization of your reusable face mask, use disinfectant dryer sheets in the clothes dryer to kill off any bacteria that may not have been taken care of during the wash
While it is important to wash your reusable mask at least once a week, it should be noted that cloth face masks wear out over time and therefore, must be discarded when their primary purpose (to prevent the spread of COVID-19) is compromised due to stretching or wear and tear. It is also recommended to alternate between different double layered or triple layered cloth masks so that each one can be washed and sanitised routinely. For more information or guidance on cleaning and sanitising your home, our cleaning experts at Simply Maid are at your service!