When the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out, everyone stayed home as much as possible. As an understanding of the virus has evolved, so has behavior. People went from staying home to the more lenient “safer at home” phase. And as things continue to open up, more travel is inevitable.
For some, travel is still just to the grocery store and back; for others, travel involves longer trips and varied destinations. Since we bring our masks when we leave the house, it makes sense to ask just how safe it is to leave - and store - our face masks in our car.
Remove Your Mask Properly
First, not everyone realizes that there is a right way and a wrong way to take off your mask.
While wearing your mask, your breathing can cause a build-up of moisture in the inner and middle layers. This can create bacteria build-up over time that can cause acne and may even compromise your immune system. Additionally, the outside of your mask may become contaminated.
Remove your mask by pulling the ear loops off of your ears. Because of the possibility of contamination, it’s important that you don’t touch the outside of your mask and then the inside. Once you’ve stored your mask, be careful not to touch your face until you’ve washed your hands.
How to Store Your Face Mask
It may be tempting to take your mask off between errands or on work breaks, but know this: every time you remove your mask, you risk spreading the virus to your hands, face, other surfaces and the inside of your mask. All of these opportunities for the virus to spread can compromise your health and those around you.
Ideally, you would leave your mask on until you no longer need it, at which time you’d carefully take it off, place it in a resealable bag, and keep it there until you can wash your mask correctly. With that best practice in mind, it’s a good idea to have a few clean masks with you. That way, you can put a fresh mask on after your lunch outing or when you leave your car to run additional errands.
In an interview with Today, the nurse educator for the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Jade Flinn, MSN, said she recommends for safe storage using paper bags or other "clean receptacles" with "good ventilation" that will allow the mask to "air out."
A clean mask must be stored in a cool, dry place, such as a drawer or wall hook. As long as the mask is in a clean area that will allow them to dry out without the risk of mildew or the possibility of coronavirus exposure.
So, Can You Store Your Face Mask in the Car?
There are a few quick answers to whether you can store your mask in the car. They all hinge on safety.
Dirty mask storage in the car
If your mask has been worn, you’ll want to place it in a resealable bag and bring it inside to be washed. That means storing your used mask in your car isn’t safe. It may be tempting to place it on the dashboard, hang it on the rearview, stash it in the glove compartment or tuck it into your cup holder, but if your mask is used, you’ll be risking the spread of the virus to surfaces, including your hands and face.
Clean mask storage in the car
If your mask has not been worn and you want to keep it in the car so you have a back-up available, the answer is yes, you can store your unused mask in the car. However, it’s still best to store it in a container that will protect it from the possibility of contamination. You don’t want to have to fish around your bag or under the seat for your mask. Control the surfaces your mask touches and ensure it remains free from contamination, dust, and moisture.
Can I hang my face mask from the rearview mirror?
A common question is whether it’s safe to hang your face mask on your rearview mirror. The answer is no, for a couple of reasons.
First, it increases the likelihood of contamination on the inside of the mask every time you open and close your car doors. Second, people tend to place their masks on the mirror while traveling from one destination to the next, but this is dangerous. Masks are large enough that they can obstruct your view while driving more than you might think.
Can I leave my mask on the dashboard to let the sunlight and heat kill the virus?
While this can sound like an opportunity to sanitize your mask without washing it with soap and water, it’s not a reliable way to clean your mask.
You would need to guarantee that the internal temperature of your car reaches 130F. Since sunlight does kill the virus, you would need to place the mask in full sun for at least 30 minutes. Then turn the mask over (with clean hands) for at least another 30 minutes.
There are a couple problems with this technique. For one, there’s no guarantee that your car will reach that 130F temperature. It’s also impossible to ensure the sun reaches all areas of the mask. Finally, keep in mind that storing your mask on the dashboard in this way will expose it to a surface that could have the virus and will have dust. So not only can a dirty mask cause an infection, but it can also cause respiratory irritation and acne.
Bottom line: although it might seem like an efficient choice, it just isn’t safe to store your face mask in the car unless it is clean and kept in a resealable bag that will keep it safe from contamination.
Now, do you know if you are wearing the most effective type of mask? Keep reading to find out.