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In 2020, face coverings and masks have become a part of our daily lives. Slowly, countries are lifting the lockdown restrictions, and people are returning to their work, schools, etc. However, putting on a mask is more important in the current scenario as people are frequently visiting places that might be contaminated with the COVID-19 virus. Social distancing and proper hygiene are essential too. Proper hygiene includes taking care of the equipment you use, including the face masks. 

Brian Sansoni, a senior vice president for communications at the American Cleaning Institute, mentioned the American Centers for Disease Prevention and Control guideline that tells us to wash reusable cloth masks and face coverings regularly. The frequency of washing these masks and face coverings depends on how often a person uses them.

According to Carolyn Forte, the director of Good Housekeeping Institute's Home Appliances and Cleaning Products Lab, fabric-based face coverings are the only face coverings that could be laundered. "If you made it yourself and there's a paper filter, like a coffee filter, inside, that needs to be removed before washing," she suggested.

Cleaning Face Masks in a Washing Machine 

Forte suggests that the best way to wash a fabric-based faced mask is to wash it in a washing machine. This method is not only the best way to clean the masks but also the easiest. She suggests that we should wash the masks in slightly warm water, even though hot water would be much better, and use heavy-duty stain-removing detergent. 

Forte says one can ensure that the mask has been cleaned thoroughly by using the washing machine and the dryer at the hottest setting. Additionally, the machine should be loaded in such a way that the masks can tumble around freely. She mentions that we don't require laundry sanitizer products when cleaning our masks. Sansoni also agrees with Forte, and says, "You really don't need any specialty products. You can just toss in the mask with the rest of your laundry."

Washing the Mask by Hand

A lot of people don't have washing machines at home, and they might not want to wash face masks in a shared laundry or a laundromat. If you are one of those people, you don't need to worry as masks can also be washed manually. Forte discusses washing masks with hands. She says if the fabric masks are delicate or contain a washable filter, then you should wash them by hand. "Do so in warm or hot water and scrub, agitating it for at least 20 to 30 seconds," she says. "Rinse thoroughly, and if not safe for tumble drying, air dry it," she added. 

You can also try deeper hand-laundering by adding liquid or powdered detergent in warm water. Once the detergent is mixed in the water, immerse the mask for up to a minute to lift the dirt and body soils. Once you are done with this step, let the mask soak for twenty minutes. After the mask is soaked, take it out and rinse it before leaving it to dry. When you are washing the mask by hand, don't overuse the detergent, and ensure that the mask has been rinsed thoroughly as detergent residue could cause irritation. You also need to keep yourself safe, so consider the mask like a contaminated object and wash your hands after touching the mask.

Removing Stains

Regular use of a cloth mask could result in stains. These stains occur while you try to use the mask or when you store it somewhere. Removing stains from a mask is easy as it can be cleaned with the same products that you use to clean stains from your regular laundry. However, all stain removers aren't made equal, so consider buying a product that is best at removing the stains that will occur on your mask during regular use. Here is a list of products that are effective at getting rid of a particular kind of stain.

Dirt, Grime and Sweat: Dirt and grime are the results of body soils like dead skin and oil, are protein stains. The best way to get rid of these types of stains is through the use of an enzymatic stain remover. Sweat is a protein stain, and the best product to get rid of such stains is an enzymatic stain remover.

Food: There is no perfect product that would guarantee the removal of food stains. So, try different options and see which one works best in your case.

Makeup Marks: Makeup marks that are caused by the foundation, concealer, bronzer, or lipstick can easily be removed from a mask with rubbing alcohol. You can also use makeup remover wipes to lighten the stains before cleaning the mask with rubbing alcohol, followed by a thorough wash.

Sunscreen: As the summer sun is at its peak, using sunscreen is essential to evade sunburns. However, these sunscreens could leave a nasty stain on your mask. As the commonly used sunscreens contain a chemical named avobenzone that doesn't react with oxygen or chlorine bleaches, using them won't give you the desired results. Avobenzone can react with the traces of iron present in our water supply and form a rust-like substance on the mask. This substance, being similar to rust, can be removed with a rust stain remover quite easily.

Alternate Drying and Cleaning Techniques

Sansoni suggests that the high heat of the dryer is an important step in cleaning a face mask. So, you should not skip this step while cleaning a face mask or other kinds of face coverings. When using a high-heat dryer, you need to be careful as masks that are made using cotton or linen might shrink on exposure to extreme heat. However, not using a high-heat setting will reduce the efficiency of the cleaning process. The best way to solve this issue is to check the highest level of heat that a particular fabric can handle, and use a similar setting for the dryer.

There is a possibility that your mask might get wrinkles or creases after the washing process. Forte understands this problem and has suggested that "after drying, you can iron the mask on high heat cotton or linen setting for extra measure, provided it's safe for the mask's fabric."

Another great way to get rid of the wrinkles is through steaming. Still, Forte suggests being careful while using steam on a face mask. According to her, "Steam does kill bacteria and viruses and can sanitize hard surfaces, but you have to be sure that the steam penetrates all areas of the mask and its folds and for the proper length of time required for a thorough cleaning." "I haven't seen evidence yet that household steamers would be an effective way to clean cloth face masks thoroughly and wouldn't recommend it at this time," she added.

A similar opinion is provided by Sansoni, who states, "We've read about people microwaving, boiling, or putting masks in the oven — none of these methods are safe or effective, as they may degrade the mask fabric and pose a fire hazard." According to Sansoni, "Laundering the masks is the way to go."

Conclusion

A mask plays an essential role in protecting us as well as the people near us from infections. So, it is not only crucial to wear a mask but also to clean it regularly. A dirty mask is as dangerous as not wearing a mask. Therefore, wash your mask regularly, and use the suggestions provided in this article to get the best possible cleaning for your mask.


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