Face mask hygiene: When was the last time you washed yours?

We’ve all been there - grabbing the crumbled up face mask from the counter, the one you know has been used a few hundred times, but it's the only one you can find and you're in a hurry, right? Before you know it, you've put a week old mask across your face with last week's make-up stains on! While it may seem harmless initially, reusing a mask could be worse than you think.


Face masks have proven essential during the coronavirus pandemic, however the potentially nasty bacteria they harbour after a few uses, definitely isn't! Face masks act as a protective barrier against airborne droplets and aerosols by trapping them within the fibers of the mask. These woven fibers provide a dense forest of filtration to protect the user and others, but subsequently retain the droplets within the material. This means once the mask is reused it could be festering harmful bacteria from your last visit to the shop or bus journey. 


A recent study by BMC Infectious Diseases concluded, “Respiratory pathogens on the outer surface of the used medical masks may result in self-contamination. The risk is higher with longer duration of mask use.... ” Changing your disposable mask after the recommended 4 hours of use is vital to protect against a build up of germs and bacteria that collonate your mask. Likewise, washing your reusable mask daily or after use is crucial to avoid self-contamination and mask related acne.


Another thing to consider when you reuse a disposable mask is its weartime effectiveness. A mask's sole purpose is to provide a high level of protection to the wearer and others for a maximum of 4 hours. Therefore, once the mask's weartime goes beyond 4 hours, its effectiveness in protecting you and others is reduced, meaning the ability to filter the air breathed in and out is lowered. With that said, I’m sure you’re probably ready to throw away all your disposable masks you've been reusing, or ready to wash your reusable masks. 


If you are regularly wearing single-use face masks, make sure they are disposed of correctly and responsibly, so they do not cause harm to our environment. Here are some main points to remember when discarding your masks:

  • Dispose of these masks in your 'black bag' waste bin at home or at work, or a litter bin if you're out and about. 
  • Do not put them in a recycling bin as they cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities.

If you are using reusable face masks, here some vital do’s and don’t when caring for your fabric face covering!

 Don'ts

  • Touch the front of your mask while you are wearing it. 
  • Rest your mask on your chin or hang off your ear. 
  • Use harsh chemical products to wash your masks. As your mask is worn over your mouth and nose, when you come to wear the mask you may inhale the chemicals or have a skin reaction.  

Do's

  • Wash your mask at least once a day.
  • Wash your hands before putting on the mask and when removing it.
  • Safely store your mask in a sealable bag when you are out and about between washes. 
  • Wash your mask with your usual laundry detergent or soak in a bowl of hot water. Since your skin is already used to it, it will be safe and effective on your face mask too.