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Protective masks have suddenly become an integral part of our daily wardrobe. In turn, we’ve been wondering about what the best methods for cleaning them are. Can you just throw them in the washer and dryer like a pair of socks, or do they need to be cared for like a more delicate item? What water temperature will actually get the mask clean? After all, if you’re wearing a mask every day to prevent the spread and contraction of the virus, you want it to be sanitary. Not to mention that as the temperatures rise and we all get sweatier, the scourge of clogged pores and “maskne” (mask-induced chin and cheek breakouts) is ever nigh. So to find out how to keep our masks in their best, cleanest form, we reached out to three doctors to hear their thoughts. Below, their tips for washing masks — and the products they recommend you keep on hand for cleaning.
First things first: All of the doctors we spoke to agreed that you should wash your mask daily. “We recommend cleaning the mask at least once a day,” says Dr. Lindsey Gottlieb, director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai Morningside. “A reason for cleaning it more than that would be if it got really wet or dirty before the end of the day — for instance if you sneeze into it and it gets visibly wet, or if for some reason you walk by something that sprays on the outside of it, then I would clean it sooner. Otherwise, daily should suffice.” Dr. Elizabeth Mullans, a dermatologist at Uptown Dermatology in Houston, agrees: “If someone runs a quick errand, then goes home and doesn’t go out again, I recommend they wash the mask when they get home,” she says. “If you’re doing multiple errands at one time, then I wouldn’t wear different masks into each store, just wash it when you are done with errands for the day.” Gottlieb suggests having a few cotton masks on hand at home so that if you forgot to wash your mask at the end of the day (or simply don’t feel like it) you’ll have a clean one ready to go.
There are precautions to follow when removing the mask, too. As Janet Haas, the director of epidemiology at Lenox Hill Hospital, told us, after wearing the mask outside, “the fabric of the mask should be considered contaminated, and you should avoid touching it — when removing the mask, handle it by the straps or ear loops, and wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, or use sanitizer after handling the used mask.”