How to Wash a Face Mask

Now that we’re all using face masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus people are asking the next logical question: how to wash a face mask?

With the ongoing threat of COVID-19, staying home and practicing social distancing is still the best way to stop the spread. But if you have to go out, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends covering your face with a mask. Thankfully, many brands and folks who know how to sew are rushing to produce reusable cloth masks to save vital PPE for our healthcare workers. For advice on how to wash a face mask and make sure you keep it clean, we asked the experts to weigh in.

1. Wash it daily.

“Masks should be washed after each use,” says says Dr. Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist and member of Physicians for Patient Protection. “For example, if you’re going to the grocery store, it should be washed upon returning home and before going out next.” Ideally, you should toss your mask into your washing machine or laundry after each use, says Deirdre Jones, the designer behind Rendall Co., who is launching a line of cloth masks on April 13.

2. Use warm water.

When washing a face mask, you want to be sure to kill any germs, so temperature matters. “Use a warm setting to remove bacteria without weakening the fabric,” says Jones. Your regular laundry detergent is fine. “Using these practices will keep your mask clean and also are gentle enough to ensure the fabric will look good and stay in great condition for longer,” Jones says.

3. Be careful how you dry.

“If your mask has elastic loops, you should air dry so that these loops do not get damaged. If you have cloth ties, these can be dried on a regular cycle in the dryer,” says Parikh.

4. Hand wash if you have to.

If you don’t have access to a washing machine, the sink will do. “You can hand wash a fabric mask just like you may already hand wash delicates. I would suggest using Woolite or another hand wash detergent,” Jones says. Regular old soap works too. First, “wet the mask and rub vigorously with soap so you have a lather,” says Jones. Parikh then recommends soaking the mask in hot water and soap for 30 minutes to ensure you’ve killed all bacteria. Then rinse, and line dry or dry on a sanitized surface, Jones says.

5. Consider buying a spare mask.

Ideally, you should be washing your mask every time you wear it, says Jones. So it might be helpful to have one or two spares you can keep in rotation. If you don’t, but don’t want to do a whole load of laundry each day, hand washing your mask in the sink after each outing works too.

6. How to wash a paper mask.

Paper masks aren’t meant to be worn multiple times—they’re very difficult to sanitize. “We do not recommend sanitizing paper masks,” says Parikh. “If you have a limited supply, we recommend placing the mask in a safe, isolated place, such as a paper bag for three to five days and then reusing.”

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