How Often Can You Wear Reusable Masks Between Washing?

Wearing a face mask has become a daily practice, and here's what you need to know about how often you should be cleaning yours.

A lot has changed in your life after COVID-19. For one thing, you’re now a lot more knowledgeable about terms like social distancing and learning how to make your own DIY face mask. But once you’ve made your own face mask or bought your own reusable face mask, how long can you wear your face mask between washings? And how do you properly wash a DIY face mask, anyway?

Why Wear a Face Mask?

At the beginning of the pandemic, wearing a face mask wasn’t a requirement when walking around outside or completing essential errands. However, times have changed, and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you should wear cloth face coverings “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” Say goodbye to the days of walking around sans face mask and hello to a new part of daily life.

How Should a Face Mask Fit?

You’ve seen medical shows and walked down the street to see people wearing repurposed T-shirts, folded bandanas, scarves, and DIY face masks, but what’s the best way to wear them? The CDC recommends the following instructions on how you should wear your face mask.

A cloth face covering should:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to the shape

How Often Should You Wash Your Face Mask?

Still life of face masks hanging at clothesline against clear sky and sun, DIY sewing projectthe_burtons/Getty Images

The novel coronavirus lasts on surfaces longer than you may think, and it’s important that the general public wears face masks and knows how to properly take care of them. There’s a clear difference between surgical masks and N95 respirators, which are both different from the regular cloth face masks you may wear. For this article, we’re talking about cloth face masks you would wear every day.

But how often should you wash cloth face masks between wears? The CDC recommends washing your facemask routinely, “depending on the frequency of use.” Dr. Daniel Griffin, a member of the Division of Infectious Diseases and an Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University, tells NPR that you should think of face masks like underwear, and that face masks should be washed after each time you wear it. Here are 11 mistakes you’re probably making with face masks.

“You don’t take this dirty mask off, put it in your purse and then stick it back on your face,” Griffin tells NPR. “It’s something that once you put on, is potentially either touching your coughs, sneezes or the spray of your speech or protecting you from the coughs, spray, speech of other people. And now it’s dirty. It needs to basically be either discarded or washed.” When it comes to cleaning, it’s important to know that there are differences in cleaning terms. Here’s the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting.

How to Disinfect Your Face Mask

The World Health Organization (WHO) shows you in a YouTube video how you can properly remove your cloth face mask. You carefully remove the elastic bands from behind your ears and avoid touching the front of the face mask. Once you’ve removed the face mask without touching the front, the CDC recommends cleaning it in a washing machine. You can also disinfect your DIY face mask by hand washing it in the kitchen sink or placing it in the oven. Next, check out these four household products that kill coronavirus, according to Consumer Reports.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a Digital Associate Editor/Writer at Previously, she worked for HuffPost and Golf Channel. Her writing has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her work can be found on her website: