Washing Your COVID-19 Masks

“Ewwww! My mask stinks! Does this thing even work?” Masks are one of the most prominent changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and they can sometimes be frustrating. However, masks are a requirement on the MSU campus when inside buildings and are mandated in Gallatin County. We understand these frustrations and would like to offer two main pieces of mask advice; why you should wear one and why and how you should clean them.

Why Wear Your Mask: Surely most of you have heard of CDC guidelines and the studies supporting mask mandates but we will reintroduce a few here. The first is a study published in May 2020, which examined how individuals infected with coronavirus’s ability to spread the virus was affected by a surgical mask. They found that masks reduced the presence of coronavirus particles in the air by a significant margin over a period of 30min. Another study found that for states that had implemented a mask mandate the rate of growth slowed by up to 2% three weeks after implementation.

Why and How to Clean Your Mask: Firstly, why should you wash your mask? One reason is that masks can get stinky and breathing in smelly air is no fun. Another reason is that harmful particles, such as COVID-19, may accumulate in your mask over time and it is important to clean those out. Lastly, with a lot of use oils from your skin can accumulate on your mask. This will eventually lead to poor skin hygiene and you may suffer a dreaded case of “Maskne” (Mask-acne). There are several ways to clean your mask, but we will offer the few CDC-recommended methods of mask-washing.

  1. Hand-Washing Your Mask. You can certainly wash your masks by hand, there are just a few steps that you need to include. The first is to make sure that you are using an appropriate disinfectant. This can be bleach consisting of 5.25%-8.25% sodium hypochlorite. Then once you have your bleach, make a solution of about 4 teaspoons of bleach with 1 quart of water. Then put your mask into the solution for about 5min before removing and rinsing with water. You can then dry your mask by just letting it air-dry.
  2. Washing Machine. While not the best option, washing your mask in the washing machine works well, just make sure to set the water temperature to a hotter setting appropriate for disinfection of the cloth and place your mask in a mesh (washing) bag. Additionally, if you use scented detergent keep in mind that your mask could come out smelling quite strong. When drying later you can use the drying machine (at the hottest heat setting), but air-drying works just as well.

Masks are an integral part of a COVID-19 transmission reduction program. With our advice, we hope that you find yourselves more informed and more receptive to mask usage.

P. S. Feel free to decorate your masks or find themed masks that you may like. Just because you have to wear them does not mean they can’t be fun!

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