Hygiene for mask during COVID-19: Reusing face masks without disinfection isn't advisable; guide on how to wash and store them
Most people also forget that just using a reusable mask or face cover isn’t enough, you also have to clean and store them properly to make sure they’re effective.
The fact that everyone should use face masks or covers for protection against COVID-19 is very well known now. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) have repeatedly insisted that the use of face covers can protect you from droplet transmission of COVID-19 infection.
Making mistakes in use and care is not an option
While reusable face covers are not recommended for healthcare workers and those in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, according to MoHFW guidelines, they provide adequate protection to the general public for their everyday use. These can be made at home or bought at pocket-friendly rates from online stores and can be reused until they’re soiled, torn, or damaged in any other way.
However, despite repeated warnings, many people actually make some very common and dangerous mistakes while using these easily available face covers.
Most people also forget that just using a reusable mask or face cover isn’t enough, you also have to clean and store them properly to make sure they’re effective. After all, if you’re using a face cover once and not disinfecting it before using it again, you’re essentially allowing any virus or bacteria on its surface to enter your system directly or indirectly. So, here’s everything you need to know about keeping your face covers clean, disinfected and ready for long-term use.
A brief note on face cover fabric
A recent study in medRxiv indicated that the presence of viable SARS-CoV-2 virus persisted for 21 days on the surface of materials like PPEs, respirators and even plastic face shields or visors. On 100% cotton fabric, however, the virus went through rapid degradation and was undetectable within 24 hours. So, use a mask or face cover made of 100% cotton fabric with triple layers to ensure safety.
How to clean and store face covers
It’s important to disinfect face covers after a single use and not reuse them unless the disinfection process is complete. This is the reason why every individual need at least two face covers, to be used in rotation. The MoHFW also recommends that you’re never supposed to reverse and reuse (without cleaning) a face cover, and remember to use the following steps to wash and clean your mask:
- Wash the face cover after every use in soap and warm water. The CDC recommends washing the face cover in four tablespoons of household bleach mixed with a litre of water. The MoHFW also suggests boiling the mask in water mixed with salt to disinfect it, if soap isn’t available.
- Drying the face cover in sunlight is of vital importance. Sunlight is a natural disinfectant, so leave your face cover to dry under the sun for at least five hours. If sunlight is not available, the MoHFW recommends the use of an iron to apply heat to the face cover for at least five minutes.
- It’s equally important to disinfect the packet your store your face covers after every use. To do this, the MoHFW recommends you wash the plastic bag with soap and water thoroughly, then leave it out to dry on both sides. Do not store your face cover in your pocket, handbag, or any other area that hasn’t been cleaned for this purpose.
- Store extra or clean face covers well away from all your other clothes and high-touch surfaces.
- Wash your face cover as soon as you come back home and wash your hands after you leave it to dry. When putting a face mask on or storing it, do so with clean hands, while only touching the strings/elastic.
- If you want to dispose of an old face cover, do so after washing and drying it.
For more information, read our article on Face covers to battle COVID-19.
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