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As the coronavirus pandemic drags on and we learn more information about COVID-19, face masks have become an important topic of discussion. Many studies have shown their effectiveness in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, several areas have mandated them, and they have even become a style statement. 

Masks can be made with different materials and are not known to pose any health risks for most people, but properly caring for them is important. 

Here are some tips for cleaning and storing face masks.

* It is a good idea to have several masks available to wear if you are able to, that way you can always have a clean, dry option whenever you need to wear one.

* Wash or sanitize your hands every time you touch, put on or take off your mask.

* Make sure to handle your mask carefully - only touch the ear loops or ties and do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth while removing it. Always wash your hands immediately after handling or touching a used mask, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises.

* Wearing a mask may be uncomfortable at first or in humid environments, but you should always make sure your breathing is not restricted while wearing one.

 

WASHING

You should wash your face mask after every wearing, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus or other germs. If your mask has filters, remove them and throw them away before washing the mask, Johns Hopkins Medicine advises.

Cloth masks such as bandanas, face scarves and those made from materials such as cotton can be washed by hand or in a washing machine with regular laundry. You can fold the mask and put it directly into the laundry or into a washable bag. Regular laundry detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting can be used for the cloth used to make the mask, according to the CDC.

For those sensitive to fragrances and perfumes, consider using unscented laundry detergent so it is easier to wear the masks.

Disposable surgical masks cannot be washed or cleaned and should be thrown away when they are visibly dirty, according to JHM.

If you are washing a mask by hand, the CDC recommends using a bleach solution. But before you use one, make sure to check the label to see if your bleach is intended for disinfection. Do not use a bleach product if the percentage is not in the 5.25%–8.25% sodium hypochlorite range or is not specified. Be sure the bleach product is not past its expiration date and never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Always make sure the area where you are using a bleach solution is well-ventilated. The CDC's instructions for making a bleach solution can be found here.

You can also wash your mask using hot, soapy water. Scrub the mask for at least 20 seconds before drying, JHM advises.

DRYING

The preferred way is to allow face masks to dry in open air, by hanging or laying them flat. If possible, place the mask in direct sunlight.

If you use an electric dryer, the CDC recommends using the highest heat setting and leaving the mask in the dryer until it is completely dry.

Be sure to allow the mask to completely dry before storing or wearing it, since cloth masks lose their effectiveness if they are damp, even from regular breathing, according to Floyd Medical Center. 

 

STORING

Wash or sanitize your hands thoroughly before storing a clean mask. You should carefully fold the mask - touching only the ear loops or ties -  so the outside is folded inward and against itself to prevent contact with other surfaces, according to the Mayo Clinic Health System.

Store clean masks in a clean place when not used. Use a paper bag rather than a plastic one to store masks whenever possible, to reduce contamination. Use a new bag each time a mask is stored, FMC advises.

Do not store masks in a hot vehicle, in a purse or in a pocket for later use. 

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