How to: Clean and disinfect reusable face masks

Due to the ongoing Corona crisis, face masks are more omnipresent than ever: Often they are mandatory, like in Germany in public transport or supermarkets; or at least advisable e.g. at the work place or when visiting people in risk groups.

Several studies (e.g. [1], [2] or further from [3]) have by now proven that people can be infected and spread the virus without showing symptoms themselves – therefore face masks are now recommended e.g. also by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [3]. By using face masks in public, the infection risk by asymptomatic persons is reduced.

The new need for face masks for a broad range of the public has led to the spread of so-called community masks: Simple cloth masks which reduce the spread of droplets, the main mean of infection of the corona virus. These can be homemade following simple guidelines such as those given by the CDC here. Furthermore, they can also be bought in stores: There is a fantastic list in German e.g. here.

Due to the ongoing Corona crisis, cloth masks are recommended in many areas and situations. Do they limit the infection risk and protect us from COVID-19? How to clean and disinfect them?
Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash

Not only can cloth masks be more fashionable with colorful patterns and funny designs, they are sustainable and provide us with the (often mandatory) tool to limit the spread of the COVID-19 disease! Their handling needs to be taken seriously though:

How to handle and clean a cloth mask after usage

Once we are finished wearing the cloth mask in public, we should assume its outside is potentially infectious. Therefore it is recommended not to touch it and store the mask (if not washed immediately) in a airtight bag. Also, make sure not to touch your face while putting on or off the mask! Washing hands before putting on and after touching the mask is necessary using soap.

After each usage, the mask also needs to be cleaned: Ideally, it is washed in the washing machine at 95 degrees Celsius, the minimum is 60 degrees [4,5]. Normal detergent is sufficient as the virus is sensitive to temperature and soap.

Disinfecting masks in the oven is not recommended for community masks, at least not by German officials. It can however be used by medical personnel in hospitals using professional equipment such as a compartment dryer under strict regulations [6].

Furthermore, some recommend to soak cloth masks in boiling water or heat them up using a flatiron. While hot temperatures damage the outer shell of the virus and thereby eliminate the thread, these methods are not recommended from official sides. Especially the flatiron does not provide a uniform heating that ensures all parts are heated evenly. The washing machine is the easiest way to ensure sufficient disinfection.

One thing to have in mind when wearing a face mask is that they do not provide perfect protection: Avoiding touching the face as well as keeping the necessary distance still is of high importance!

At this point, I guess most of us are getting sick of social distancing and all those new rules… but they will accompany us for a long time, as it seems. I had a serious case of quarantine depression in the last two weeks due to isolation and having to cancel big plans we had this year. How are you handling the situation?

[1] 10.1056/NEJMc2001468
[2] 10.1056/NEJMc2001737

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