The world of masks and respiratory protection is complicated. It’s hard to keep up unless it’s your day job!
Luckily it is our day job at Breathe99, and we’ve laid out the basics in a 4-part Mask Buying Guide. This post examines everything to do with using, storing, and cleaning a mask. Check out the other three parts of the Mask Buying Guide here:
With the environment in mind, we are big fans of reusable masks. But of course, that means knowing how to wash and store the mask between uses.
And disposable or not, always wash your hands before touching your masks. We can’t say it enough, and neither can the CDC.
Safe Everyday Handling
As you’ve probably been told, wash your hands and don’t touch your face. This is especially true when handling a mask. Look for a mask that you can put on and remove without touching the part near your face. And if you might be taking your mask off for short breaks before putting it back on, such as running multiple errands, then think about where that mask will go when you’re not wearing it, and how much you’ll have to touch it.
A mask is a barrier between the outside air and your nose and mouth. So, when handling your mask it is imperative to avoid cross-contaminating the outside and the inside. The two likeliest sources of this are 1) yourself while handling the mask, and 2) a bad storage situation. Folding the mask in half is a great way to protest the inside from the outside world. Which brings up the next topic...
Where to store my mask?
In short, anywhere that is breathable but safe from contact. You want your mask to be able to dry out if you have been wearing it, so avoid sealed containers. Not only does this avoid mildew and microbial growth, but it prolongs the life of electrostatic filters such as those in N95 respirators and the B2 Mask. You also want to keep your mask safe from touching other things, or being found by kids and pets.
Good storage ideas include:
- Hanging on a hook near the door (not touching other things)
- Hanging from your rear view mirror in the car
- Folded inside of a breathable pouch
- Inside a shoebox
Not-so-great places to store a mask include:
- Scrunched inside your pocket
- In a sealed plastic bag
- In a pile with other people’s masks
- Held against your neck or hanging from your ear
Keeping it Clean
The ideal frequency to clean a mask if after every use. If you have enough masks and time to keep that up, then great! But the rest of us have to settle with washing it as often as we have time, balancing it with safe handling and storage.
Any masks made of fabric can probably be thrown in your laundry (in a delicates bag if possible!). And plastic parts, such as the B2 facepiece, can be washed with soap and water or wiped with rubbing alcohol. Do make sure you check the manufacturer label for warnings about any cleaners or solvents that might dissolve plastic. When in doubt, go with soap.
Mask components made of nonwoven plastic, like B2 filters, PM 2.5 filters, or surgical masks, should not be washed or reused.
There are a few other ways of cleaning masks that we’ve heard from our users that sound interesting, but we haven’t had the time to test ourselves. UV cleaning of any non-plastic parts has been suggested by some users in the medical field who have access to such machines. Using a CPAP cleaner which circulates ozone is another suggestion. However these items aren’t found in most households, so our advice is to stick with good old soap and water.
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