How to Safely Wash and Dry Fabric Masks

Praditkhorn Somboonsa / Shutterstock

Wearing a mask is important, and when it comes to reusable cloth masks, it is also important to wash and dry them well. Here’s how.

In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, cloth masks are becoming the norm all over the world. A cloth mask is not perfect protection against the air virus, but it is a precious additional layer of defense. When you get home, you will want to clean it thoroughly to get rid of any virus particles that may have landed there before wearing it again. Here are your safe mask cleaning options.

Machine wash

If you’re lucky enough to have a washing machine at home, machine washing is the easiest and most effective way to clean cloth masks. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a washing machine will safely clean the masks. Just throw them in the washer and dryer with the rest of your outerwear.

Use a hot water setting and dry it over high heat. The heat combined with the laundry detergent will help to degrade the virus. You can also use detergent with bleach for extra protection.

If you can, you may want to turn your water heater on 140 degrees, the temperature that kills most germs. However, be careful when showering, as this higher temperature setting can burn you if you start hot water. If you have children, it is best not to mount your water heater that high.

Even if you can’t adjust your water heater, the high heat setting on your dryer should be enough to neutralize the virus. So if you are using a washing machine, always make sure you follow it with the dryer rather than stopping the drying.

If you are not ready to wash your mask yet, place it in a plastic bag so that it cannot contaminate anything in the meantime.

Finally, whether you make them yourself or buy them online, look for a machine-washable, dryer-resistant mask fabric. A delicate mask for hand washing only may look pretty, but it is better to have the durability (and convenience) of machine washable materials.

Hand washing

If you don’t have a washing machine or don’t want to do laundry every time you need to disinfect your masks, you can instead wash them by hand.

The cloth masks are hung on drying on a small drying rack.Charlie Waradee / Shutterstock

Mix one teaspoon of bleach in one liter of hot water and soak your masks in the solution for five minutes to kill the virus. Then rinse your masks under running water. Let them soak for a few minutes in clean water to dilute and rinse off the last bleach. Finally, hang them to dry.

Hold on!

It is not the most effective method, but viruses do not live on tissue forever, so waiting for the virus to die is also a viable “cleaning” option.

Although scientists aren’t 100% sure how long the coronavirus will last on tissue, it certainly won’t last a week. So you can put your used masks in a ziploc bag or in a separate and unused room. Leave them there for a week, then you can assume they are virus free.

Of course, human error can go into any cleaning method and make it imperfect. You could miscalculate the days and put your mask back on too soon. You might forget to put the detergent in the washer.

For peace of mind, consider using more than one of these cleaning methods to ensure success. For example, you can wash your hands and dry a mask, then leave it alone for a week to be careful.

How to keep clean masks

Once you have cleaned your masks, do not put them in a drawer with the rest of your laundry. Seal them in an airtight container, such as a ziploc bag or a plastic storage container. This will keep them clean and not contaminated. Ziploc bags are particularly practical if you want to take a clean spare mask with you when you are on the go.

Of course, always make sure to store clean masks outside of dirty masks, so that you don’t forget which one is which.

How to check that your masks are not damaged

Effective washing methods tend to be harsh, so you should always check your masks for damage before wearing them again. Cloth masks don’t last forever, and it’s important to replace them as soon as they show holes or damage.

Hold your masks in the light and check for holes or thinning spots in the fabric. As soon as you see the fabric thin or form a visible hole, it’s time for a new mask.

The Internet is full of countless other mask cleaning ideas, involving everything from microwaves to UV light. However, experts agree that the methods listed here are the most effective and workable for home care.

Washing your masks well is not difficult, but it is an important step to protect yourself and those around you.

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