In a world where it’s hard to get kids to change their underwear or brush their hair regularly, dealing with a new piece of clothing worn directly on the face every day is a big organizational deal for parents!
I’m sure some have had no problem incorporating regular mask washing into their routines, but we are all going to have “those mornings”…
You know the ones.
They used to look like this:
“Oh no, we forgot to pack lunches last night and homework is only half done and my seven-year-old boy is trying to leave the house without socks on and it’s 40°!”
Now we will get to add:
“And ugh, I forgot to do laundry so you don’t have any clean masks! What do we do?”
I consulted some fabulous MDs and pediatricians who shared some great research-based ideas for hacks to make sure your kids have a clean mask even when you haven’t done laundry.
You will never have to feel like the mom bringing lunch to the school office…aka sending your kid to school in a dirty mask because it’s one of “those days”!
Spoiler: along with making sure you know a few methods for the best way to wash your face masks during this pandemic, the clean mask hacks take 5 seconds to 5 minutes, including:
- The spritz
- The iron
- The hang (this one takes longer but is zero work!)
We’ve already talked about our Mask C.O.D.E. (safe way to wear masks so you don’t bring more germs to your face), how to safely take a mask break, and why we strongly recommend against disposable surgical masks because cloth reusable masks are better for so very many reasons.
Today let’s tackle routines and best practices to keep those reusable cloth masks clean.
If you or your children are required to wear a mask, temporarily, possibly the most important habit is to NEVER wear a dirty mask.
I advocate against children wearing masks all day and am researching why it may be dangerous for all humans, but since many of us are stuck with mandates, let’s not bring more harm to our own bodies.
How to Reuse Masks During a Pandemic
I’m firmly in the camp of reusable masks to protect the earth. Did you know surgical masks are made of plastic that will never break down and leave the environment???
Since masks are required for a quick 5-minute trip into a store, we humans need to figure out some ways to reuse masks during a day or week without washing them just for every quick wear.
This post includes recommendations on washing and storing masks that I compiled after discussing with the MDs who approved my Mask Wearing C.O.D.E., but this list is not approved by all of them in the same way as the first list was.
Even doctors aren’t quite sure how seriously to take this virus thing.
How to Wear a Face Mask Correctly with Mask C.O.D.E.
Use this memory tool to teach kids (and adults!) how to wear a mask safely and correctly.
Would you like a printable version of the Mask C.O.D.E. to post as a reminder in your home, business, classroom or church along with hacks to keep the masks clean and more?
Read all the safe mask wearing posts:
Can You Reuse Disposable Surgical Masks?
Although there are lots of opinions on mask efficacy, mask etiquette, and best ways to wash masks, everyone agrees on one thing: You’re supposed to throw away disposable masks after one use. Mask experts say they’re only rated to filter for about 30 minutes.
If you are determined to reuse a surgical mask (I’ve done it, 10 times on one mask, full confession!), you should know that healthcare staff are advised to store their surgical masks in a breathable paper bag and wait 5 days until the next use (via Dr. Valencia Porter).
I didn’t know that and chose to hang mine from the rearview mirror, although the sunlight should have killed pathogens as well since I was only wearing it for once-a-week appointments. (More on UV light below…)
Where to Store a Reusable Mask
Best practice if you are reusing a mask without washing it is to hang the mask, open or folded in half with inner sides together.
We typically just do this in our vehicle at the Kimball house:
UV light from the sun hitting the mask is a line of defense against pathogens too, which is one reason I hang mine from the rearview mirror. Suction cup hooks on a sunny window in your house would be a great option too!
I am not installing new little mask hooks in my home, because this is a temporary need.
Dr. Porter shared that bacteria and viruses may live on cloth masks for up to 8-12 hours. If so, hanging it for a few days would “refresh” it again if washing isn’t an option.
If you need to store your mask while on the go without hooks in the vehicle, use a paper bag so moisture doesn’t get trapped in a plastic bag. See our mask break ideas for some other options.
These child-sized organic masks from Etsy are what we bought for some of the kids, and Gabe loves the fit.
How to Wash Face Masks
Launder cloth masks as soon as possible after wearing (daily) with non-toxic laundry detergents like soap nuts or MyGreenFills and no fabric softener. We don’t want toxic fumes on our faces all the next day!
Hot vs. cold water for washing masks shouldn’t be a big deal, because soap does inactivate viruses with the coronavirus structure.1 You can toss your cloth masks in any load, although I prefer hot as an added layer of protection.
In our house, we have dust allergies and need to wash sheets once a week. Our hot water heater is set high for this reason, over 130F. That kind of heat annihilates dust mites!
With 4 beds in the house, that gives us plenty of opportunities to throw masks into a hot load.
When Becca was working on her disposable vs. cloth mask post, we discovered that we have very different laundry routines in our homes!
In her house, everyone does their own laundry, and sheets are washed once a month (oh, I remember those days!).
Therefore she chooses to wash their reusable masks by hand with a squirt of natural, fragrance-free soap, and since they’re so small and usually not visibly soiled, it’s a very quick process. A liquid laundry soap like Molly’s Suds Sport or even unscented castile soap will work great.
Bonus: Handwashing should make your masks last longer as well!
Want to hear from some experts?
Johns Hopkins Medicine asked an MD who is the senior director of infection prevention, and she basically recommended wearing your mask all the way home to make sure it got washed2 — but of course that would include wearing the mask for extra time in your vehicle, where it’s not needed.
That’s why actual mask experts, whose job is to keep YOU safe, not just prevent the spread of infection at all costs, say you need to consult them. No one should be wearing a mask for a second when they don’t need it because of the risk to their own health. (More risks and how to mitigate them here.)
Kristen Meghan, OSHA mask expert, explained that proper mask “doffing” (taking off) would be as follows:
- Touch the ear loops only.
- Fold the mask outsides together to keep contaminants trapped.
- Put in a plastic bag until you’re home.
- Tip the mask right out of the plastic bag into the washing machine and don’t even consider wearing it again.
- Use your elbows to turn on the faucet to wash your hands.
That’s how OSHA used to train people in the workplace who were required to wear masks before the pandemic. That’s the proper protocol.
Is that overkill? Is it too much to ask of normal everyday people? Or is it what ought to be required if masks are required?
I’ll let you decide…but since masks have been required, let’s move on with the process:
How to Dry a Reusable Mask
Most of the homemade masks I bought from Etsy recommend hanging to dry, which I follow because I want my masks to last longer.
They’re thin, so they dry quickly overnight.
Some docs recommended to dry on “hot” if the material can handle it because heat will help kill pathogens, just another added layer of defense.
I love that Dr. Shiroko Sokitch also brought up an important point: NO dryer sheets!
We do NOT want to be breathing artificial fragrances all day long. That’s a quick way to get a headache in the short term, plus artificial fragrances are a huge source of endocrine disruptors.
RELATED: See my interview with environmental toxin expert Lara Adler for more info on fragrances.
Quick Hacks to Get a Mask Clean if You Forgot to do Laundry
I know busy parents out there need these ideas!
We’ve got 5-second solutions, 5-minute solutions, and overnight habits that will help your kids (and you) always have a clean mask to wear as long as they’re required. (Pray with me that this pandemic fear ends soon!!)
1. Iron the Mask
This idea from Dr. Shiroko blew my mind!
It’s literally a 2- to 5-minute fix that can happen almost as you’re rushing out the door if you realized you didn’t wash masks for a few days.
The heat from the iron should kill viruses no problem, PLUS remember that ideally viruses only live 8-12 hours on fabrics, so if the mask has been sitting around overnight, you’re likely safe from viruses anyway.
I’m also concerned about issues like dust mites, mildew, and bacteria that could cause health issues for my kids, so I think ironing the mask is just the bee’s knees as a hack for busy, conscientious parents!
Note: I would not try this on synthetic fabrics in case they melt! This is a good time to note that polyester is a PLASTIC and probably not what we want our families breathing in all day. Plus, they’ll never biodegrade, so every poly mask you buy is contributing to waste in the environment FOREVER and microplastics getting into our water supply. You might put a sheet between your mask and the iron if you think the heat may melt the mask directly. Test on a tiny corner!
2. Spritz with Hypochlorous Acid Spray
Dr. Sheila Kilbane recommended this little hack, spritzing the mask using a spray made of diluted hypochlorous acid, proven to kill viruses.3
Hypochlorous acid seems somewhat related to bleach, as it’s described as an acid that forms when chlorine dissolves in water, and itself partially dissociates, forming hypochlorite. It’s an oxidizer rather than a bleach but is still a disinfection agent.
Can you tell I’m not a chemist? This would be a great time to state plainly that nothing in this post is intended to substitute for medical advice, scientific research, or anything else that I could be liable for. It’s information and informed opinion from a mom who sits around and reads a lot. That is all.
Hypochlorous acid is used in swimming pools and as a food-safe disinfectant to treat food prep surfaces and water supplies and even gets sprayed directly on produce and as a disinfectant in hospitals.4, 5, 6
Would you want to drink hypochlorous acid? Probably not.
But I’m encouraged that my smart MD friend who opts for very natural, non-toxic products, feels it’s safe enough to literally spray right on her face and hands, as well as her mask. I’ve seen her do it on a webinar to demonstrate how safe it is. As long as it’s well diluted, this sounds like a great option for quick sanitizing of masks and even hands.
Dr. Kilbane uses Briotech, but there are other brands using hypochlorous acid as well. I’ve been using pHur the last few months, and the disinfectant spray smells mildly like bleach to my nose, if you’re curious.
How to find hypochlorous acid sprays on Amazon, arranged in order of dilution from weakest to strongest (but all approved for direct skin and face contact):
- Avenova Antimicrobial Eyelid and Lash Cleanser (0.01%)
- Puracyn Plus First Aid Wound & Skin Cleanser (note: not 100% hypochlorous acid; also includes bleach) (0.012%)
- Pure & Clean Hand Cleanser (150 ppm or 0.015%) Pure & Clean also sells stronger dilutions for surface cleaning.
- Heyedrate Lid and Lash Cleanser (0.015%)
- SkinSmart antimicrobial Eczema Therapy (0.018%)
- Briotech (0.02%)
- Curativa Bay Skin Spray (0.02%)
- OCuSOFT Spray for Eyelids (note: not 100% hypochlorous acid; also includes bleach) (0.02%)
If you click on a few, you’ll notice a WIDE range in price points!
To compare, you can buy surface cleaners like Clean Republic (0.03% hypochlorous acid) or HypoCleanse (0.05%, sold in a gallon jug) for far less per ounce. To keep a mask clean and not use on hands or faces, save some pennies and buy the surface disinfectants.
I feel like hypochlorous acid might be the lost little sheep in the fight against COVID-19.
It’s interesting to me that on Pure & Clean’s one-gallon jug of multi-surface cleaner, one of the photos on Amazon claims that hypochlorous acid killed human coronavirus in 15 seconds. That’s faster than bleach! (Remember that coronaviruses have been around a long time; we’re currently battling a “novel” coronavirus, but it should still behave like the others as far as its weaknesses, we hope.)
3. Spritz with Natural Hand Sanitizer or Silver
Some of the docs I consulted didn’t like my idea because the mask would then be moist, but I’m hanging it afterward and not wearing it right away.
For a quick trip into a store or gas station, less than an hour, I’m not going to wash my mask every time.
I love that hanging it up in my van, especially in the sun, should be a fine way to “refresh” the mask and get back to the point of it being cleared of any living pathogens. But if I need to wear it before a few days, I squirt it lightly with a natural hand sanitizer like Wellnesse or Earthley to make sure the pathogens are dead.
No science here. Just common sense.
If the FDA approves 60% alcohol-based sanitizers to kill the virus on my hands, why not the mask? As long as it gets a chance to dry out before I wear it, which should be able to happen even during a 10-minute trip to school, I figure this strategy can’t hurt.
Feel free to borrow it as long as you’re cool with something that isn’t fully evidence-based. 🙂
I wouldn’t recommend it if your kids are literally on their way to the school bus and have to put their mask on right away though, because it’s very true that you don’t want to be wearing a damp mask for a number of reasons.
You could also use a silver spray, like this one from 3rd Rock Essentials, 20% off with the code KITCHENSTEW.
I spoke with Guerry, the owner of 3rd Rock, and he says that silver will clean masks just as well if not better than soap and water.7, 8 He actually recommends using their deodorant spray to clean masks because the aloe and jojoba oil are moisturizing for the face. He also recommends that the mask stay moist because the spray continues to kill pathogens, as opposed to evaporating quickly (like alcohol sanitizers).
4. Hang in the Sun
This idea doesn’t count as a “quick fix” but is a great idea for a nightly habit that will allow you to avoid washing and drying and forgetting your mask. 😉
UV light kills viruses, so allowing the sunshine to hit your mask will refresh it if you don’t have to wear one daily.8
5. Hand wash and/or Boil
Let’s say you actually remember about washing the masks the night before, but you either don’t have time to run a whole load of laundry before bed or don’t have any laundry to do.
It’s good to remind our brains that we can always hand wash masks quickly, and for an even more hands-off option, toss them in a pot and boil them.
Rinse in cool water and hang to dry overnight, or if you just have a bit of time before you need to leave, you could always use a hairdryer to speed up that process.
Get the Dust Mites and “Other” Harmful Agents Off Your Mask
To shake, or not to shake?
Most of my doctor sources disagreed with this habit that I’m teaching my own kids, but I still wanted to share it with you, because I think it’s important.
When putting a mask back on after a short use of the same mask a few days ago, I teach my kids to give it a hearty shakea-shakea with all their might.
This may dislodge any immovable viruses that may be on the mask as well as hopefully any dust mites or other particles that would be a bad idea to have near your nose and mouth.
This New York Times article sort of says that shaking a mask might get a virus off.9 “Once something that size gets onto a surface, it’s not going to come off spontaneously,” Dr. Marr said. “It would take someone shaking it around.”
That’s actually why the docs said I shouldn’t recommend shaking a mask. Most of the time experts recommend avoiding shaking out laundry or masks, basically because we don’t want to dislodge an active virus and send it flying into the air again. The goal is to reduce that kind of thing, right?10, 11, 12
Here’s my rebuttal:
I won’t go around shaking off a mask that I’ve actively been wearing and am putting back on after a short break. That seems like what the experts are directing us to avoid.
But if a mask has been hanging to dry for a few days or is in the van hanging up, I know that (a) any viruses ought to be dead by now, and (b) it’s highly likely that dust and dust mites have taken up residence.
I’m going to shake that dust off (you can visually see it in the sunshine, so I’m definitely not making this up!) and tell my kids to do the same.
Even if you don’t know you have dust allergies, you’ll be healthier with fewer environmental allergens near your nose. I just found out I have dust allergies too, and I didn’t know that for 39 years!
Quick Recap: Best Ways to Wash Your Face Masks
- YES, you can re-wear a mask if it hasn’t been worn very long. Store them hanging up or in a paper bag if you’re going to do this.
- UV light can help inactivate viruses, so try hanging in the sun.
- Always throw away surgical masks after one use (official recommendation). But I’ve reused them, ahem, using a couple of the following tricks.
- Wash daily on hot, cold, or hand washed. Natural, fragrance-free soap only.
- Dry on hot or hang to dry. No dryer sheets!
- There are a few quick hacks you can use to make sure you have a clean mask if you forget to do laundry:
- Iron the mask on hot.
- Spritz with hypochlorous acid spray.
- Spritz with a natural hand sanitizer or silver spray.
I do pray for the day we are released from these mandates and from the virus spreading. For now, let’s do our best to wear masks correctly if we have to (or choose to) wear them at all!
- McKrimmon, K. (2020, March 30). Why soap and water work better than hand sanitizer to remove the coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.uchealth.org/today/why-soap-and-water-work-better-than-hand-sanitizer-to-remove-the-coronavirus/
- Maragakis, L. (2020, July 2). Coronavirus: How to Care for Your Face Mask. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-how-to-care-for-your-face-mask
- Ecoloxtech. (2020, August 24). New Study Proves That Hypochlorous Acid Kills Novel Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.maritime-executive.com/features/new-study-shows-that-hypochlorous-acid-kills-novel-coronavirus
- Wikipedia. (n.d.). Hypochlorous Acid. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypochlorous_acid
- PubMed. (n.d.). Hypochlorous Acid. Retrieved from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Hypochlorous-acid#section=ClinicalTrials-gov
- J. Meghan. (n.d.). What is Hypochlorous Acid? Retrieved from https://www.forceofnatureclean.com/what-is-hypochlorous-acid/
- Zachar, O. (2020, March). Nanomedicine Formulations for Respiratory Infections by Inhalation Delivery – Covid-19 and Beyond. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340270205_Nanomedicine_Formulations_for_Respiratory_Infections_by_Inhalation_Delivery_-_Covid-19_and_Beyond
- Jeremiah, S., Miyakawa, K., Morita, T., Yamaoka, Y., & Ryo, A. (2020, November 26). Potent antiviral effect of silver nanoparticles on SARS-CoV-2. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 533(1), 195-200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbrc.2020.09.018.
- Medical Xpress. (2020, April 24). Sunlight destroys coronavirus quickly, say US scientists. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-04-sunlight-coronavirus-quickly-scientists.html
- Fazio, M. (2020, July 25). Your Used Mask Needs to Make It to the Trash Can. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/25/climate/covid-masks-discarded.html
- Tung, T. (2020, April 10). When Covering Your Face, Consider the Science of Surgical Masks. https://csunshinetoday.csun.edu/community/when-covering-your-face-consider-the-science-of-surgical-masks-csun-experts/
- Conner, K. (2020, July 20). Can coronavirus live on your clothes and shoes? Here’s what we know right now. Retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/health/can-coronavirus-live-on-your-clothes-and-shoes-heres-what-we-know-right-now/
- Centers for Disease Control. (2020, September 8). Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html
- Centers for Disease Control. (2020, May 22). How to Wash Masks. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wash-cloth-face-coverings.html
- Thurrott, S. (2020, August 31). How often should I clean my cloth face mask? What about N95s? Health experts on the do’s and don’ts. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/31/how-often-to-clean-cloth-face-masks-to-prevent-coronavirus-spread-and-n95-masks.html
- Song, E. (2020, June 30). Flying with Kids During a Pandemic [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://healthykidshappykids.com/2020/06/30/flying-with-kids-during-a-pandemic/
- Centers for Disease Control. (2020, August 7). How to Wear Masks. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wear-cloth-face-coverings.html
- Centers for Disease Control. (2019, March 5). Interim Guidance for the Use of Masks to Control Seasonal Influenza Virus Transmission. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/infectioncontrol/maskguidance.htm
- Centers for Disease Control. (2020, August 7). Considerations for Wearing Masks. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html#surgical-masks