Face mask rules are changing again. The UK government has now decided that face coverings will also be required when visiting cinemas, museums, galleries, places of worship and anywhere else you might be near people you don’t normally socialise with.
The new rules come in from Saturday 8 August and they’ll be enforceable by law.
While we already have to wear a mask to use public transport and to go to the supermarket, shops and takeaways, the new measures mean we’ll be donning our masks even more regularly.
Therefore it is vital for us to know the best practice in how to look after our masks, which means learning how to wash them and how often we should be doing so.
Why is it so important to wash your reusable face masks?
Research indicates that fabric, when not properly disinfected, is a carrier for viruses, like norovirus and coronavirus, and bacteria, including E. coli, says Ryan Sinclair, associate professor of environmental microbiology at Loma Linda University School of Public Health, in a press release .
Professor Sinclair goes on to explain that pathogens like bacteria and viruses can live on cloth fabric for up to 8-12 hours.
“Because we don’t know what germs we’ve been in contact with or how low long the germs have been active on the cloth fibres, it is crucial to regularly wash, sanitise and dry reusable face masks,” he says.
As well as helping to keep coronavirus at bay, washing your mask can also help prevent you developing maskne (spots caused by wearing a grubby mask).
How often do you need to wash reusable face masks?
Advice differs on this point. While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states your mask needs to be washed after every use, the UK government advice simply states you should wash it “regularly”.
Kate Grusich, a spokesperson for the CDC told GQ. that how often you need to wash a face covering is dependent on how frequently you wear it.
“If you’re just taking the occasional trip to the pharmacy and supermarket, a weekly wash should be appropriate, as long as the mask isn’t visibly soiled,“ she said.
“If it is soiled, or if you’ve been around someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, the face covering should be washed immediately after use.”
So, if you’re trying to decide whether your mask needs a wash, then you should probably just go ahead and wash it to be on the safe side.
Read more: How to safely dispose of a face mask
What should you do with your face mask if you take it off before you get home?
The government recommends storing reusable face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them.
How to properly wash your face mask
The simplest way to clean your face mask, according to the government, is to toss it in the washing machine.
There’s no need to wash your face masks separately, as the government says you can wash and dry them with your other laundry. Just use your normal detergent, follow the instructions for the fabric and wash it on the highest temperature recommended for the fabric.
Allowing your mask to dry is also an important part of the washing process. If you’re using a tumble dryer the CDC advises using the highest heat setting and leaving in the dryer until completely dry.
If you don’t have access to a dryer don’t worry, it is just as effective to leave your mask to air dry, with the CDC advising laying the mask flat until it is completely dry and, if possible, placing the mask in direct sunlight.
Face mask hygiene etiquette
To further reduce risk of infection, the government has some other hygiene etiquette tips:
When wearing a face covering you should:
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on
avoid wearing your mask on your neck or forehead
avoid touching the part of the face covering in contact with your mouth and nose, as it could be contaminated with the virus
change the face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
avoid taking it off and putting it back on a lot in quick succession (for example, when leaving and entering shops on a high street).
When removing a face covering:
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before removing
only handle the straps, ties or clips
do not give it to someone else to use
if single-use, dispose of it carefully in a residual waste bin and do not recycle
if reusable, wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed.