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How to clean and sanitize your COVID-19 face mask

Face masks became an integral part of outings for most people during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s because the CDC and other health organizations encourage Americans to wear masks in public to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Masks help protect against spreading saliva, or other bodily fluids that may contain COVID-19. Cloth face masks have been difficult to find since the pandemic began, but don’t worry, you can easily make your own with supplies you already have. Tap or click for easy DIY face masks.

With so many unknowns, it’s important to have a good idea of both how to wear your mask correctly — and how to clean it. It’s not enough to just wear a mask — it needs to be done so properly and with care, and your masks need to be regularly disinfected to keep both you and others safe. Let’s take a look at how to do that.

How to correctly wear a mask

Per the latest guidelines issued on May 26, the CDC recommends everyone wear cloth face coverings when leaving their homes, regardless of whether they have fever or symptoms of COVID-19. That means you need to wear a mask any time you leave your home, whether you’re riding a bike, shopping for groceries, browsing the shops that are open, or taking any type of public transportation.

RELATED: Don’t have a mask? Here’s the only mask Kim bought and recommended to her friends and family

While masks may not be required in your area, it’s still a good idea to heed the recommendations by the CDC. These guidelines were issued because there is evidence that people with COVID-19 can spread the disease — even when they don’t have symptoms.

It’s important to note, however, that cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing. It may go without saying, but the CDC also states that masks should not be used on people who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Simply wearing a mask won’t cut it, though. You also need to make sure that you’re wearing your mask correctly, which can be surprisingly difficult to do. Your mask needs to cover your nose — not just your mouth — and it needs to fit snugly on your face, no matter how uncomfortable that feels to you.

To wear a mask correctly:

  • Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water before handling your mask, or use hand sanitizer if you’re not in close proximity to a sink
  • Make sure your mask’s interior side is what’s facing your face
  • Ensure the mouth and nose are fully covered
  • Check to be sure the covering fits snugly against the sides of the face so there are no gaps
  • Be sure you do not have any difficulty breathing while wearing the cloth face covering
  • Be sure the cloth face covering can be tied or otherwise secured to prevent slipping

To remove your mask, try to avoid touching the exterior part of the mask. Remove it by pulling the straps away from your ears and then place it in a bag or container that can be easily cleaned until you’re ready to wash it and wear it again.

How to clean your mask

If you’re wearing a mask to venture out in public, as you should be, it’s also important that you know how to clean it after you’re done with it. It may seem laborious, but you need to be sure you’re washing your mask after every outing, which means you’ll probably want to keep a few masks on hand to rotate them when the others are dirty or in the wash.

RELATED: Hand sanitizer is still tough to find. Tap or click here to stock up on Kim’s pick

The cleaning process is simple. You’ll want to make sure you have some heavy-duty detergent or a bleach solution on hand, which will help sterilize the masks and remove any deep soil or sweat trapped in the mask.

Once you have your cleaning solution or detergent on hand, you can get started with cleaning your masks either by hand or in the washing machine.

To use a washing machine to clean a cloth mask or face covering:

  • Use disposable gloves to handle soiled masks; this reduces the risk of spreading any contamination to other parts of your home
  • Before washing, make sure that you remove any removable filters, detachable ear bands, or other removable parts
  • Be sure to use a heavy-duty detergent and hot water on a normal cycle — or opt for the sanitize cycle if you have it
  • Allow it to completely dry before the next use — you can use either the dryer on high heat or a drying rack in direct sunlight to do this

You can also opt to use a mesh laundry bag to hold your masks — like the ones used for undergarments — and then drop the laundry bag filled with masks directly into the washing machine and dryer.

To hand-wash your cloth masks or face coverings:

  • Use disposable gloves to handle soiled masks; this reduces the risk of spreading any contamination to other parts of your home
  • Fill the sink with hot water and use a bleach solution* along with a teaspoon of detergent, which you should add directly to the water before submerging your masks
  • *Note: To make the bleach solution: mix 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of room temperature water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of room temperature water
  • Use cool water to rinse the masks
  • Hang on a drying rack to dry in direct sunlight

Whether you use a washing machine or hand wash them, you should make sure to store your masks in a covered container or bag until you need them to keep them from being contaminated while out in the open.

To clean an N95 or other non-fabric mask:

If you happened to get your hands on an N95 mask or another type of non-fabric mask, you’ll want to make sure you’re cleaning that mask, too.

To do this:

  • Use disposable gloves to handle the mask
  • Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching or adjusting the respirator
  • Remove the mask by using the straps rather than touching the front of the mask
  • Place it in a paper bag for a week to allow time for the germs to die
  • It’s also important to remember that these types of masks can only be worn five times by the same person and you should never share this type of mask

Wearing a face mask in public is new to most of us, but it’s necessary to help us all get through this pandemic safely. If we all work together, we’ll make it though these difficult times.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, advice, or health objectives.

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