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How often should I clean my mask?

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Information courtesy of COVE

You know you need to wear masks in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but when do you wash them? Some say you should wash them every day or two. Others think it depends on how often you wear it.

“The contamination of a mask is your own contamination. The mask is unlikely to be picking up an infection from the air in most scenarios, so it’s really what you are comfortable with,” said Dr. Wouter Rietsema of the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says running a cloth mask through a washing machine should suffice for cleaning it.

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Another way to sanitize face masks is to place them in boiling water for five minutes. The downside is that depending on the cloth your mask is made of, a few rounds of boiling could damage it or affect breathability.

To ensure your mask remains functional after boiling, you’ll need to inspect it closely—hold the mask up to a light source and check for any thin areas where a small hole might be forming. Viruses are only 60 nanometers across, which means they can slip right through any loose-woven or damaged fabric.

Whether using a washing machine or boiling, be sure the mask is completely dry before use.

Sanitizing your mask won’t change a thing if you don’t store it properly. Once you have a clean mask, put it in a closed plastic container or a new zip-close bag by itself.

If you want to go the extra mile, write on the bag, or stick a note to the container with details about when you last sanitized the mask and the method you used. This will prevent cross-contamination and you’ll be able to tell for sure whether or not it is safe to use the mask.

DO NOT microwave cloth masks to clean or dry them. Some microwaves can catch certain types of cloth on fire and many masks have a metal noseband stitched into them that will cause sparks and damage your microwave and potentially your home.

And of course, always wash your hands after removing your mask once you are safely at home.

Use Cleaning Products Safely

The CDC has reported that calls to U.S. poison centers about cleaner and disinfectant exposures have increased by 20 percent. Please make sure you are using cleaning products and disinfectants safely:

— Follow the directions on the label
— Don’t mix chemicals
— Wear protective gear (such as gloves)
— Use them in a well-ventilated area
— Store them out of reach of children

See the CDC’s Cleaning and Disinfection for Households guidance. You can also chat with the Northern New England Poison Control Center on their website: call 1-800-222-1222 or text POISON to 85511.