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How Often Can You Wear A Cloth Face Mask? It's All About Hygiene

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As everybody adjusts to the face mask life, there are bound to be some questions about the whole practice. For instance, how often can you wear a cloth face mask before needing to wash it? There's a pretty clear consensus among many experts.

First, while cloth masks are meant to last through multiple wearings, that doesn't mean they'll stay magically sanitary. "Changing out or laundering a cloth mask should follow the same routine as underwear/undergarments: Change them daily and when soiled," Dr. Darrell Spurlock Jr., Ph.D., director of the Leadership Center for Nursing Education Research at Widener University and a professor in Widener’s Ph.D. in Nursing program, tells Romper. Keep that "underwear" idea in mind, and you'll probably never forget to wash your mask again. Other experts agree with this guideline. And just to clarify, only cloth masks are meant to be laundered and worn again, not disposable face masks. "Reusing face masks is not ideal. Face masks are intended to be single use," Dr. Jay Woody, M.D., FACEP, tells Romper.

Luckily, it's not hard to wash your cloth face mask properly using a washing machine, sink, or even a pot of boiling water: It's basically like any other piece of laundry, so you won't need special soap or anything.

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In between washings, there's a way to handle your mask to keep it as clean as possible. "If you are not infected, the highest risk of contamination is the front of the face mask," says Woody. "Additionally, if the person reuses the same face mask and has touched the inside of [it], when they reapply their face mask the germs have direct access to their mucous membranes." Remove your face mask from the back, and wash your hands immediately afterward, Woody recommends.

On the bright side, a collection of washable face masks should last for a while, as long as there are no visible tears or signs of intense wear. (A mask with holes kind of defeats the purpose.) If you'd like to stock up, there are face masks that help support coronavirus relief efforts you can buy.

Although wearing a mask may be a bit of a hassle, it's an act of kindness for everyone around. "Remember: the purpose of mask-wearing by the masses is to protect the uninfected from those who may be silently carrying and spreading the virus, not to prevent the uninfected from becoming so," says Spurlock. Basically, wear a face mask to help protect others, then wash the mask frequently to help protect yourself.

Experts:

Dr. Darrell Spurlock Jr., Ph.D., director of the Leadership Center for Nursing Education Research at Widener University and a professor in Widener’s Ph.D. in Nursing program

Dr. Jay Woody, M.D., FACEP, chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and a co-founder of Legacy ER & Urgent Care