When the CDC issued its recommendation to wear face masks as protection against the coronavirus, it didn’t really say very much about how often, or how cloth face masks should be washed. What is certain is that a cloth face mask needs to be washed regularly, depending on how often it is used, in order to avoid germs from building up, and to prevent cross-contamination from taking place. But is there any easier way?
One way to sterilize your cloth face mask is to let it sit in boiling water for five minutes — but experts tell Popular Science that boiling could either damage or have an impact on the mask’s breathability. To make sure your mask can still be used, hold it up against the light to make sure there are no thin areas where a hole might form, allowing the virus to get through. To ensure your cloth mask continues to provide protection against COVID-19, you shouldn’t boil your mask more than 10 times.
Disinfecting a cloth face mask in a microwave is not a safe option
Another way to clean your cloth face mask by popping it in your washing machine and using the hot water cycle with water temperatures set to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which the World Health Organization says is enough to treat contaminated clothes and fabrics. If you’re not planning to run the washing machine for a small load, Popular Science also says you can soak your face masks in a bleach solution, made up of 1 teaspoon of bleach for every quart of water. Soak the mask for five minutes before rinsing it under a tap for up to 15 seconds, then leave the masks out to dry or run it through the high heat of a dryer.
There is one way all firefighters and authorities think you should not sterilize your mask, and that’s by nuking it in a microwave oven. Firefighters say cloth masks can overheat and catch fire, as several mask owners in New Hampshire appear to have found out the hard way. If you aren’t able to launder your cloth masks after you step out each time, your best bet is to keep several of them handy so you can wash your mask as soon as you get home (via Good Housekeeping). As handy as the microwave is, it’s definitely not the best tool for sanitizing face masks.
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