OPINION: Wash your nasty face mask


Face masks have become a part of life in the past year. Love them or hate them, they’re here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. There are lots of things to think about when picking out a mask. If you work with kids, you probably want something fun and colorful. If you’re trying to represent your school or state, then a mask with a mascot or state flag on it is perfect. Or maybe you want your mask to match your outfit. 

Regardless of what your mask looks like, it needs to be clean, and I’m guessing most people aren’t washing them as much as they should. I certainly don’t. But I’m trying to make some changes now to keep those masks in good condition and prevent the spread of disease. Mostly, I’m focused on keeping them clean. 

I’m assuming most of you have more than one mask. If not, it might be time to buy another, depending on how often you’re leaving the house. There’s certainly no shortage of designs out there to choose from.

When it comes to cleaning your masks, there are a few things to know. First, you should wash your mask after every time you go out in public. That means after every trip to the grocery store or pharmacy, after a day of classes, or after you’ve been in a meeting. The more people you come into contact with, the more critical it is. 

Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at John Hopkins Medicine, recommends washing your mask after every wear to prevent spreading COVID-19 or other diseases.  




  • Fabric masks can be washed with your other laundry. It’s probably best to use warm or hot water.


  • If you’re washing by hand, make sure you use warm soapy water or a bleach solution and don’t forget to give them a good scrub for 20 to 30 seconds.


  • Tumble dry your mask using high heat. This will help kill any germs that have accumulated on the mask. 


  • If you don’t have a dryer, then lay the mask out in a windowsill or on a clothesline where it will get some sun. This will help it dry faster.


  • Remember, disposable or paper masks can’t be washed. Don’t re-use them if you can help it. As soon as they appear dirty or the straps get loose or break, it’s time to toss them in the garbage. That’s why cloth masks are preferable — reusable masks cause less damage to the environment.


  • After you wash the mask, make sure you have clean hands when you go to fold it or store it. I keep my clean masks in a sealed freezer bag. Just make sure you only put freshly laundered masks in the bag to prevent cross-contamination.


  • When it’s time to put your mask on, make sure your hands are clean. Stop by a sink and use soap and water or use a good hand sanitizer before picking up your mask and putting it on your face. 


We don’t know precisely how long viruses and bacteria can live on fabrics, but some experts feel it may be up to 8-12 hours on a cloth mask. The point is that you don’t want to carry a petri dish around on your face, so do yourself and the world a favor and wash your nasty mask.