The COVID-19 vaccine exists—but it will be a little while before most people can get it. COVID-19 obviously still presents a big concern, and having a mask on-hand remains part of our daily lives. So here’s something to consider: When is it time for a new mask?
We stocked up on masks in spring, summer, fall … And if you’re using the cloth masks, you’ve likely been using (and washing) yours for a while. That can open a mask up to some wear and tear that could potentially raise your risk of contracting the virus. Your mask could even have features that aren’t recommended by the CDC.
When To Wash Your Mask
You should wash your reusable mask “after every use,” shares Dr. Archana A. Parikh, an internal medicine physician at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Irving. “Anytime we touch [them], there is the potential that they become contaminated.”
You should also change out your mask if it gets dirty or wet. The CDC says a wet mask can make it harder to breathe and may not be as effective.
Check the Mask Fit
As far as when a reusable mask needs to be fully replaced, take a look in the mirror before you head out. It’s all about making sure the mask still fits properly.
“It should fit snugly around the nose and mouth, without openings on the tops or sides,” Parikh advises. “And all masks should be made of a tightly woven fabric, so they can keep large droplets from passing through. The CDC suggests that holding the mask up to light is a good way to check if the fabric is woven tightly enough to be effective.”
If the fabric lets light through, it’s either worn out or wasn’t sufficiently tightly woven in the first place.
You should also replace your mask if it has any holes or simply loses its shape.
Which Mask to Use
And what kind is best? Cloth? Paper? “Due to limited resources, the CDC asks that surgical and N95 masks be reserved for health care professionals who are working directly with patients,” says Parikh. “If everyone is masked, the cloth masks work great. The paper ones that you buy at the store are not medical grade and work similarly to cloth masks.”
The good news is that a quality mask will be effective for a while. “Reusable masks made from a breathable and durable material should last a long time,” Parikh explains.
Some mask don’ts include those made of materials that are hard to breathe through, such as leather or plastic. And if your mask is a single layer, get one that’s two or three layers instead. The CDC also says to pass on masks with exhalation valves and vents. And keep in mind that face shields are not recommended as a substitute for masks.
Have more mask questions? Check out the CDC’s website for a good overview of everything related to face coverings.
Image courtesy of iStock.