Mask washing mythbuster: Fake news around face masks

There’s a lot of fake news going around about masks, but the evidence suggests that wearing one can help limit the spread of coronavirus.

However, it’s not just wearing them that is important. It’s also essential that we wash them correctly once they’ve been used or get rid of them if they’re disposable.

It’s estimated that on average we touch our faces about 23 times every hour, whether we’re aware of it or not – and with a mask on, that’s not a great idea! So here’s how to properly clean your face mask ready for a new day at school or college.

How to wash a fabric mask (the right way)

If you’re wearing a reusable fabric face mask throughout the day, then it should really be washed daily. There’s two good ways to do this:

  • Machine wash your face mask at 60 degrees
  • Scrub your face mask by hand in hot water (as hot as you can stand safely – not boiling) with a normal detergent like washing up liquid

To clean a fabric mask properly, you need to kill anything that’s been on it as well as lifting it from the mask itself. These methods are the most effective because they both involve using surfactants, substances which lift anything nasty from the material, making sure that the face masks are good to go.

However even fabric masks have a shelf life on them and might not last forever. If you’re buying one, it might say on the label how many washes it will take before starting to become less effective. Watch out for when a mask starts to feel really moist on the inside whilst wearing it – this is a sign that the fabric has started to break down and that it’s time to get a new one.

The best way to clean a fabric face mask is to machine wash at 60 degrees.

How NOT to clean a fabric mask

Like a lot of things surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, face masks have come up against fake news. Here’s a mythbuster around some of the worst ways to clean a fabric face mask:

  • Don’t microwave it – this won’t do anything to kill the virus and it might just set your kitchen on fire!
  • Don’t just wipe it with hand gel or sanitiser – you need to rinse and rub your mask with neutral detergent to properly clean it.
  • Don’t soak it with disinfectant – disinfectant is quite strong and isn’t meant for this type of cleaning. When you next wear your mask, you’ll be inhaling residue from the disinfectant, which could make you ill.
  • Be wary of steam ironing – blasting your face mask with steam might kill any contaminants on the material, but it won’t do anything to lift them from the fabric. Also, the steam from the iron might not evenly cover the mask, and so even that’s not completely fool proof.

Keeping safe at school

When you’re not using your mask, pop it in a reusable plastic bag or similar, rather than just sticking it in your pocket. This will stop the mask from picking up any additional muck, as well as stopping it from transferring bacteria and viruses to any other surface.

If you’re using a bag, it’s a good idea to give this a wipe when you’re washing your mask – and don’t forget that your phone has been touched all day too. Use a sanitising wipe to give it a quick once over every day to be on the safe side.

It might be tempting, but be wary of buying fake designer masks to impress your mates. Some copies might have been made really cheaply, with material that isn’t ideal for good health. The dyes in the fabrics are more likely to bleed, and breathing that in might have a negative health impact too.

Where next?

What are reliable sources?
Tips for spotting fake news online
Reality Check: Finding the facts in a pandemic
Fact or Fake?