Even though we are desperately waiting for the day when we can return to the old normal where we can go out without masks and sanitizing our hands twenty times, we have to face the reality. Coronavirus is here to stay and is't going anywhere. Masks are a necessity, and we might as well adjust to mask routines like we do for skincare and our lifestyle. The mask, like the clothes we wear, gets dirty and needs to be washed. But how often and with what intensity should they be cleaned?
Centres for Disease Control (CDC) says that the regularity of washing depends on frequency of use. But it also depends on what kind of mask you use. For disposable masks (which aren’t environment friendly or that effective), there's no question. You must throw them after a single use. Then remains the cloth masks and the N95s and N99s.
As masks are in direct contact with our nose and mouth, it is extremely important to keep them free from germs. There might be viral particles embedded within the cloth fabric which may get inside our respiratory system.
Dr Bela Sharma from Fortis Memorial Research Institute told Indian Express cloth masks need to be washed after every use. She suggested to have two masks to make thing easier, so that when one is being washed or dried, the other can be used.
If you are involved in jobs other than healthcare, you can rewash the N95 and use it. But if you are in healthcare (doctor, nurse, cleaning staff, orderlies, etc), then the mask can be reused for around five days, after which it needs to be discarded.
As for regular users, you don’t need to keep buying a new mask every week. Just follow proper hygiene practices to keep the germs (and smells) away. Though sanitiser sprays can be used in urgent needs, nothing beats viruses and other microorganisms like soap. Studies have shown soap to be most effective at destroying the coronavirus.
You can take a bowl of water and submerge it soapy liquid and wring it out by hand. The CDC recommends you should rinse it thoroughly under a tap with running water. Be sure to get all the soap and detergent out of the fabric.
Alternately, you can put it in the washing machine with other clothes. Depending on the fabric of the mask, use appropriate wash settings on the machine. The agency also recommends air-drying your mask in direct sunlight whenever possible. Do not use wet masks.
You can rewash and reuse the cloth masks for a few months. But as they are prone to damage, keep checking for signs of trouble. One sign is when you hold it against a light source and can see light pass-through tiny holes. Then, it’s time to replace the mask.