The mask. It's all about the mask. Choosing a face mask or three, wearing a face mask, figuring out how to wash a face mask. Even as some places have begun to open back up (probably prematurely), you remain a model citizen. You're wearing your mask in public like the CDC recommends (and some states require). You’re scrubbing your hands like Lady Macbeth, you’re resisting the DNA-encoded temptation to touch your face, and you’re washing your mask. Properly? Maybe.
Not to get all "news at 11" on this, because in truth, washing a mask at all is better than not. But given that the coronavirus is insidious, and the CDC's recommendations on how to wash a face mask are vague—how often is “routinely washed,” and what if you don't have a washing machine?—we tapped a few experts to lay out the full dos and don'ts of proper mask wearing and washing. If only because knowing exactly what to do is, in some small measure, a path to one less anxiety, however small.
Actually wear the thing
First of all, you need to wear your mask correctly. Ideally your mask consists of multiple layers of cloth and fits snugly over both your mouth and nose while still allowing you to breathe normally. Wash your hands before you put it on. Ideally, only touch the ear straps, and once it’s on, consider washing your hands again. If you haven't washed the mask, whatever it's filtered—germs, bacteria, airborne gunk—is on the surface. Which is why you want to avoid touching the mask once it's on your face.
“Wearing the face coverings properly is a huge challenge, and we see issues all the time,” said Paul Pottinger, MD, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Washington Medical Center. “People will move their face covering down around their chin so they can drink a coffee—we call that the Abraham Lincoln. Or they’ll hang it off one ear, or they’ll just pull their nose out. These are all bad practices. Either you’re wearing it or you're not.”
Take it off correctly
Now that you’ve worn it out in public, especially in a more crowded place like the grocery store, think of your mask as contaminated. When you get home, take it off by the ear straps and immediately wash your hands.
Wash your mask properly
So should you be cleaning your mask after each use? According to Kate Grusich, a spokesperson for the CDC, how often you clean your mask depends on how often you wear it and when. “If you’re just taking the occasional trip to the pharmacy and supermarket, a weekly wash should be appropriate, as long as the mask isn’t visibly soiled," she says. "If it is soiled, or if you’ve been around someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, the face covering should be washed immediately after use." And if you’re coughing and sneezing into the mask, then yes, scrub it off. No sense in wearing snot.
If there’s any doubt, just go ahead and wash it. The simplest way to do that is to throw it in the washing machine. According to the CDC, the hotter the water, the better. A hot cycle in the dryer will also help eliminate the virus.
But how should you wash a face mask if you don't have access to a machine? At the moment, the CDC doesn’t offer any guidelines for hand-washing masks on their site, but Grusich offers up a next-best option. “Lather the mask with soap or detergent and scrub thoroughly with warm to hot water," she says. If you're hand-washing, you probably don't have access to a dryer, either. Grusich suggests using a hair dryer if you need to put that mask back in service quickly. “If you’re hanging it out to dry, that’s okay, but let it fully dry for a few days, and cycle through other masks in the meantime,” says Pottinger.
Having a rotation of masks means you can let the fabric fully dry out and ensure there’s no virus potentially left on it—and no need to organize your going-outside schedule around a drying mask. At this point, it seems wise to build up a mask wardrobe.
We all need to wear masks—so here's a running list of designers producing them.
Originally Appeared on GQ