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Published on April 08, 2020

several homemade masks on table

How Do I Keep My Cloth Mask Clean and Useful?

Wearing a cloth face mask can be helpful in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Whether you have homemade ones or bought some, daily washing can help the masks keep you safer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend masks for anyone who goes out in public.

“Wash your cloth mask after each use, or at least daily,” said Avera Infection Prevention Registered Nurse Specialist Tiffany Peterson, RN, CIC. “It’s best to wash in hot water, but if you can’t, make sure to dry on a hot setting of your dryer.”

Peterson said social distancing is still an important tool in reducing risks associated with the novel coronavirus. Stay home, if you can, but if you must go out for necessities, use a mask.

Cloth masks can be made using this pattern. You can read more tips about how to make them, too.

“We’re incorporating cloth masks in the context of this COVID-19 pandemic, for two purposes: source control and extending the useful life personal protective equipment (PPE),” said Peterson. “Source control means the masks help reduce the likelihood of transmission, and it applies to health care personnel and patients, as well as other staff.”

Don and Doff

Cloth masks only help if they are carefully put on (donned) and taken off (doffed.)

When you're putting one on, hold the mask by ear loops and slip one loop over your ear, and then slip the second loop over your other ear," she said. "Adjust mask to assure mouth and nose covered. Remember that cloth masks tend to slip less during use if the lower edge of mask is aligned with your jaw bone rather than below it."

If your mask has a "head loop" instead of ear loops, hold the mask by grasping both head loops at the edges, and then pull the elastic around your head. Put your chin into the cloth part first.

"Stretch both head loops up over your head, and adjust loops so mask fits snugly," Peterson said. "It's also important to remove the mask with care when you're done wearing it."

When you're ready to remove a cloth mask, grasp one of the ear or head loops. Try to avoid touching the front of the mask. Put it in your laundry to be washed – and then wash your hands.

"Performing hand hygiene, every time you touch the mask, will really help you avoid cross-contamination," said Peterson. "Try to avoid touching the outside of the mask, and wash it regularly."

If your cloth mask gets wet from use, try to swap it out for another one, if you have it.

Peterson said a cloth mask worn over PPE adds a barrier between people and the environment, so wearing cloth masks over disposable or N-95 masks will extend the PPE’s usefulness.

“Every small step in conservation or careful stewardship of PPE goes a long way in the overall effort,” Peterson added. “We’re grateful to the many sewing enthusiasts around the Avera region who have stepped up to help themselves, their families and all of us in reducing the risk of virus spread. Just remember: wash those masks after you use them, and always perform hand hygiene after touching your masks.”

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