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How to Wash a Face Mask

By Joanne Chen and Alejandra Matos | September 10, 2020 | The New York Times

Whether you’re buying reusable cloth face masks on Etsy, sewing your own at home, or buying a few of our favorites, they all need to be washed—and often.

You should always wash a new mask before wearing it for the first time. Many face masks, including our favorite ones, can be tossed into a washing machine. But if you don’t have a machine, you can also hand-wash masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend washing masks “regularly.” Experts we spoke with were more specific: Wash masks at the end of each day, especially if they are dirty or wet. But there’s no need to wash masks separately from your regular laundry.

The CDC recommends that you touch only the mask’s ear loops or ties, and wash your hands immediately after taking the mask off.

If you use a polypropylene or paper filter in your mask, remove that piece first and throw it out, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Most masks can go in your washer, but some may need to be hand-washed. Read the label, or look for instructions on the website where you purchased a mask.

Audience development strategist Alejandra Matos has a washer that’s located next to the garage entryway, so she takes off her mask as soon as she walks into the house.

She also throws masks into a mesh bag that sits in the washer until there’s enough laundry to run a load. The mesh bag helps keep a mask’s ear loops or straps from snagging.

There’s usually no need to use hot water when you’re washing a mask. The coronavirus is easily broken down with soap and water, no matter how hot or cold the water is.

Heat can shrink some natural fabrics, and it can also hasten wear and tear over time, particularly for synthetic materials. Warm water is fine, though some mask instructions call for a cold wash.

Again, read your care labels. The Banana Republic and Herschel masks we like, for example, should be laid flat to dry, according to their care instructions.

Many masks can be thrown in the dryer with the rest of your laundry, but you may not want to do that. Remember, heat accelerates breakdown, particularly if a mask has elastic fasteners. A gentler way to dry a mask is on a rack. You can also speed up the process with a hair dryer, preferably set on cool, or machine-dry without heat.

Either way, make sure the mask is completely dry before you wear it again. “Masks are very small, and they will easily dry overnight,” Cornell University fiber scientist Juan Hinestroza tells us.

The cotton masks Alejandra ordered from a family friend get really wrinkled and stiff, so she likes to steam them after they come out of the dryer. If you decide to iron your mask, avoid ironing the elastics.

If you don’t have a washing machine, or you have just one or two masks in your rotation, you can also hand-wash your masks.

Clean out your sink, and then pour some warm water and soap (or laundry detergent) into it. “Any soap works,” says Hinestroza.

Swish your mask around to make sure the water and soap completely saturate it, then rinse it off really well. The goal is to rinse off any soap residue left on the mask, Hinestroza tells us.

Gently squeeze your mask to remove excess water, and then smooth it back into shape.

Air-dry the mask, and don’t put it on until it’s completely dry.

© 2020 THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY

Joanne Chen and Alejandra Matos
The New York Times