After almost two years of COVID-19 being a daily occurence in all of our lives, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that face masks are imperative in slowing the spread, especially with new, more contagious variants on the rise. Getting vaccinated, staying socially distanced and wearing a face mask regularly can help keep everyone safe and healthy, especially now that winter is here.
There are plenty of face masks available nowadays from athletic face masks to face masks for kids, cloth face masks and even formal PPE designed for playing dress up. One thing all of these masks have in common? They all get nasty after you’ve been wearing, breathing and spitting in them for hours and need to be washed. Seriously, don’t skimp on this step. Now that offices, gyms and other shared spaces are open again masks are often required to enter, and sometimes need to be worn for the entire duration of your stay. To keep your masks as fresh as possible between uses, we’ve created a SPY guide for how to clean your face mask that’ll make this tedious task simple.
In this piece I’m going to cover:
- Why you should clean your face mask
- How often you should clean your face mask
- Different face mask fabrics
- Cleaning disposable face masks
- Cleaning/disinfecting N95 masks
Why You Should Clean Your Face Mask & How Often
I mean, think about it — you’re wearing a face mask tight to your skin for hours and hours at a time and then you’re just going to not wash it and wear it again? It’s essentially like double dipping with your underwear, but on your face, which I know you would never ever do… Regardless, the CDC recommends you wash your face mask after each use and keep in a clean place until you’re ready to reuse it. Not only does this maximize its effectiveness and limit the spread of COVID-19, it also protects you from mask-ne – or acne caused by a mask that we’ve all been slowly losing the battle to since these mask mandates went into effect. An unwashed mask accumulates bacteria easily and over time that can cause irritation and clogged pores, so a regular wash is a must for keeping your skin as healthy as possible.
A Note About Different Fabrics
Different fabrics need to be cleaned differently — and for the longevity of the mask it’s important to strategize your cleaning methods to avoid damage. Cotton, polyester and polypropylene are all durable fabrics that can most often go in the washing machine, whereas silk, lace or other more delicate fabrics require hand washing. You can’t wash disposable face masks or N95 masks. Disposable face masks should be thrown away when damaged or visible soiled, and N95 masks can be worn again after sitting untouched in a brown paper bag for 5 days between uses.
How to Clean Your Face Mask
There are a number of different ways to clean face masks of varying degrees of intensity. You can quickly refresh using sprays that kill bacteria, improve smell and are quick to use if you’re in a pinch. You can also wash by hand, in your washing machine or disinfect your mask in a bleach soak. I’ll outline all of these solutions below and include recommended products.
Solution 1: The Quick Refresh
Mask sprays are a great way to give your mask a quick cleansing between uses if you don’t have time to wash it and don’t have a clean one lying around. Many of these sprays contain natural disinfectant and are designed to kill bacteria that causes acne. They don’t clean your face mask as intensively as other washing methods, so this should only be something you do occasionally rather than your consistent cleaning method. I’ve pulled a few of my favorite face mask sprays below.
1. Enfusia Cloth Mask Refresher Spray & Deodorizer
I was sent a sample of this mask spray a few months ago and I’ve used it frequently since. It smells great with a light fragrance that’s refreshing but not too overwhelming and the bottle is small and portable. It contains only essential oils and no artificial fragrance, and a 3-pack costs less than $20 which will stock you for the next few months at least.
2. Good Essentials Aromatherapy Face & Mask Mist
This mask mist is more designed to be therapeutic rather than cleansing, but it’ll freshen up your mask in a pinch nonetheless. It’s soothing and refreshing, and is designed to be used on your face and mask in conjunction. It has natural anti-bacterial properties and contains lavender, rosemary, grapefruit and lemon essential oils, all of which help boost your immune system. You can buy the spray in a single, 3- or 5-pack and even subscribe if you’re interested in regular deliveries.
3. SkinSmart Antimicrobial Facial Cleanser Spray
This face mask cleanser spray is formulated to remove viruses and bacteria from the areas around your eyes, nose and mouth, a.k.a exactly where your mask sits, and help you avoid infection. It’s made with simple, safe ingredients like hypochlorous, a natural antimicrobial agent, and may help avoid maskne and other face irritations that can come from extended daily mask use.
Solution 2: Hand Washing
Hand washing is one of the best and safest ways to clean all face masks, especially if you’re not sure if your favorite mask is safe to go in the washing machine. Hand washing in the sink is the easiest way to get the job done, with warm water and a little detergent. You’ll want to make sure you scrub your face mask for at least 20 seconds and rinse it thoroughly. Chances are, if your mask isn’t suited for the washing machine it’s probably not safe for the dryer so air dry instead.
One note about detergent — since the mask sits on your face and the skin on your face tends to be more sensitive it’s best to use gentler detergents when hand washing. In case you don’t get all of the soap out when rinsing or you’re especially sensitive to artificial scents, using a detergent that’s gentler will minimize breakouts and skin irritation.
4. Woolite Delicates Hypoallergenic Liquid Laundry Detergent
Woolite is a gentle hypoallergenic formula that’s gentle on skin and clothes alike. It’s designed to not cause fading, shrinking or stretching even on the most sensitive of fabrics. It’s also made to be used when hand washing but can also be used in any washing machine. It contains no bleach, phosphates or enzymes that are hard on clothes.
5. The Laundress Delicate Wash Laundry Detergent
This laundry detergent has a 5-star review on Amazon with over 1,500 ratings, and is designed to be used with delicates. It’s made with eco-friendly biodegradable ingredients and an herbal and citrus blend of amber, bergamot, lavender and musk. It’s designed to keep fabrics in good shape for longer, and is perfect for use when washing masks of sensitive fabrics like silk, spandex, nylon and blends.
6. SinkSuds Travel Laundry Detergent
This laundry detergent is actually made to be used when traveling (remember traveling?) but is perfect for hand washing anything in the sink. You can quickly and safely wash your face masks in the sink or bathtub using their gentle formula. One packet works best with two or three masks at the same time, and the formula works with all fabric types and water temperatures.
Solution 3: Machine Washing
If your face masks are made of cotton or other durable material, make it easy for yourself and machine wash them with the rest of your clothes. Again, it’s best to use gentle detergents for your skin but since you’ll also be throwing them in the dryer this is less of a concern. I would use a delicates setting to keep them from shrinking or stretching, since fit is so crucial to their function and how comfortable they are.
7. Active Wear Laundry Detergent
This laundry detergent is great to use on workout gear and athletic face masks that are likely made of similar materials. It has plant-based enzymes designed to eliminate odors caused by sweat, a necessity when cleaning face masks, and is free of harsh chemicals that could irritate your face. It’s a concentrated formula with a value of 90 loads per bag and it’s made in the USA.
8. Tru Earth Hypoallergenic Laundry Detergent
This laundry detergent is made to be gentle on sensitive skin, is hypoallergenic, vegan and paraben-free. It also has no artificial dyes or fragrances and contains no chlorine bleach. It also comes in environmentally-friendly strips that are pre-portioned so there’s no need to pour out the detergent and therefore no mess. The packaging is ultra-compact to save space and the detergent is formulated to brighten colors, restore whites and remove tough stains.
Solution 4: Disinfecting
Disinfecting your mask is another way to get rid of germs and ensure no COVID-19 droplets are lingering on your mask after you wear it. Disinfecting is an easy process that kills off bacteria, but we still recommend cleaning your mask regularly to keep it fresh and healthy for your skin. The best way to disinfect your mask is to soak it for five minutes in a solution with a ratio of 4 teaspoons of household bleach per quart of water. After the soak, rinse your mask thoroughly and air dry it.
One note about drying — unless otherwise noted on the mask’s tag you can dry face masks in the dryer. Use a hot dryer setting to kill off as many germs as possible. You can also hang dry masks in the sun.