So, you’ve got the face mask you made out of an old t-shirt from when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) first recommended masks, hand-washing, and social distancing due to COVID-19. Throw that thing away — there are better options now!
Or, you’ve since upgraded and have several masks. Maybe you’ve got a fun patterned mask for your socially-distanced date night. Or a camouflage mask for the casual and responsibly-distanced tailgate happy hour at a friend’s cul de sac. And inevitably, you have a favorite mask you settled on for running errands and safe everyday interactions outside your home.
In addition to ensuring your mask is high quality and as effective as possible, knowing when to retire your favorite face mask is crucial to ensuring it does its job of protecting yourself and those around you.
So how long do reusable face masks last? Here, we discuss - and provide a few tips and tricks to keep your mask effective for as long as possible.
How Long Are Reusable Masks Effective?
Even the highest-quality reusable masks aren’t designed to last forever. If you’re following the recommended washing schedule (and you should be!), many will lose the ability to effectively filter out particles after about 30 wears. Regular removal and washing may also cause the mask to lose its shape due to stretching of the ear loops or loosening of the elastic around the nose and mouth. This means the chances of your nose slipping out or air escaping from the bottom or the sides of your mask will increase.
Additionally, masks that employ protective technology like nano-silver will lose their effectiveness over time. Our Nano-Silver Reusable Face Masks have still been effective after 50 washes in some tests, but we recommend retiring your mask after 30 wears to ensure you are doing all that you can to keep yourself — and others — safe.
If you’re not sure if your mask is still effective, you can try a few of these mask tests to determine if it is time to pull out a replacement.
That said, if you don’t look after your mask properly, the chances of it being effective even for 30 uses goes down. Next, we’ll dive into how to extend the life of your mask.
How to Safely Take Off Your Reusable Face Mask
When you’re out and about while properly wearing a mask, the assumption is that you are potentially collecting virus particles on the outermost mask layer. That means it’s possible to transfer those particles to your hands while taking the mask off, unless you take the mask off the right way. Here is how to keep yourself safe:
- Step one: only remove your mask when you have soap and water or hand sanitizer nearby and can wash your hands even if you are not washing your mask yet.
- Step two: remove your mask by only touching the ear loops. The idea is that the majority of virus-laden particles will be on the front of the mask, and your risk to virus exposure is minimized when you only handle the ear loops.
- Step three: if you aren’t able to immediately wash your mask, place it where it won’t be touched and can air out.
- Step four: once the mask is removed, immediately wash your hands before touching your face.
How to Clean Your Reusable Face Mask
While it’s ideal to wash your mask after each use, that isn’t always feasible. And it’s good to keep in mind that each wash will cause wear and tear, making it less effective over time. While this isn’t a reason to not wash it, you do need to either keep several masks on-hand or keep your mask on until you no longer need to wear a mask for the rest of the day.
- Step one: gently but thoroughly handwash the entire mask with warm water and mild soap. Remember that you aren’t just washing any water particles out of the outmost layer, but are making sure you wash away dirt, microbes, and mildew that may have collected on any of the layers. Scrub your mask for at least 20-seconds.
- Step two: rinse thoroughly. Too much leftover soap can cause the fabric to stiffen, making a snug fit more difficult.
- Step three: leave your mask to air dry in the sun or a cool, dry place.
t’s best not to use a heavy detergent or disinfectant as this can remain in the cloth and be irritating to your nose and lungs when you wear it next.
You can machine wash your mask if the directions indicate as much, but this will wash away and wear down many of the protective nano-silver finishes on the fabric more quickly.
How to Safely Store Your Reusable Face Mask
Store your dry masks in a clean place when you aren’t using them. You can hang them by the door if you live alone, and people won’t be walking by, potentially exposing the masks to coughs and sneezes. Leave them in a clean container in your car, so you always have them on hand when running errands. Or leave them in a clean drawer where you only keep clean masks and sealed hand sanitizer that won’t leak on them.
No matter where you store them, Jade Flinn, MSN, the nurse educator for the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in an interview with Today that she recommends using paper bags or other "clean receptacles" with "good ventilation" that will allow the mask to "air out."
The idea is to make sure your reusable face masks aren’t exposed on the inside or outside to any contaminating particles. That means washing your hands after taking masks off and storing them properly—where they will dry out and won’t mildew or grow bacteria. Ideally, you’ll have three to five masks, so you always have a clean one to wear, one that is drying out from its last wash, and your used ones that need to be cleaned. If you are wearing a mask daily for less than six hours at a time, each of your masks may last as long as 30- to 60-days before the fabric technology that is protecting you becomes less effective.