• Race to a Cure Authors

Caring For Your Face Masks

Face masks are essential in preventing the spread of COVID-19. We wear masks to help protect those around us and, in return, those around us do the same. In the early months of 2020, many of us did not own masks, had no reason to own masks, and could not have imagined that they would quickly become a necessity when going out in public. Now, we leave the house with masks in hand. We head to school with masks tucked in pockets, backpacks, and pencil cases. We might even find ourselves rushing back home after forgetting one.

Face masks have undeniably become a new normal. However, they are still new and unfamiliar to many. How long can I wear a mask? Can they be reused? Where should I store it for reuse? How should I wash my cloth masks? Knowing how to handle and care for your face mask is extremely important. This article is a guide to your everyday mask needs, so keep reading to have all your questions answered!

Taking off your mask

When you are in public settings, such as the grocery store, your workplace, school, or a community building, it is important to keep your mask on at all times. When you have arrived at home, there is a procedure to follow when taking off your mask. The infographic below from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrates this procedure.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Upon removal of your mask, you should either dispose of it immediately, place it in the washing machine or laundry hamper to be washed, or safely store it for reuse.

Storing after removal

As you are likely aware, under your chin, over the forehead, dangling from an ear, or around the neck are not good places to store your mask for reuse. These actions risk contamination from your mask to your hands, face, mouth, and nose. If you will be reusing a mask, the best and easiest way to store it is in a paper bag or envelope. Contrary to common practice, a plastic bag is not recommended as it locks in moisture and allows bacteria to grow on the mask.

The lifespan of a mask

Disposable face masks are meant to be discarded after every use. However, if you have only worn it for a short amount of time in a low-risk environment, it can be reused. In an article by CBC News, Dr. Anand Kumar, a professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba, recommends leaving disposable masks in a paper bag for at least 3 days, during which any virus found on the mask will diminish. It is important, however, to discard and replace the mask if it is worn, damaged, or visibly soiled.

A cloth mask must be washed regularly, preferably after every use. This will prevent exposure to germs and viruses from outdoor settings, and allow for a clean and disinfected mask for your next use. It is helpful to have multiple masks that you can cycle through throughout the week, especially if you will not get a chance to wash them daily.


It is important to thoroughly wash cloth masks after each use, especially if they are soiled or become damp. When it comes to cleaning your masks, you may choose to use a washing machine or wash by hand. Masks can be included with your regular laundry using a warm/hot water cycle. When washing masks by hand, use soap and warm/hot water. It is also a good practice to disinfect the mask by soaking it in a bleach solution for 5 minutes, followed by a thorough rinsing with cool or room-temperature water. Before wearing, ensure that the mask is dried completely. This can be achieved by using a dryer on the highest heat setting, or by allowing the mask to air dry under sunlight.

Masks are essential in stopping the spread of COVID-19 within our schools, workplaces, stores, public centers, and communities. Thus, it is extremely important that we care for our masks by handling them properly, storing them in safe places, and washing them frequently. As we begin emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown as a nation, we are beginning to regain a sense of normalcy. Citizens are returning to work, students are returning to schools, community centers and public services have begun their reopening, and family and friends have reunited after many months of quarantine. In this time especially, it is crucial that we continue to practice safe and cautious measures. Adhere by Public Health guidelines, maintain good hand hygiene, practice physical distancing, and of course, don’t forget your mask!


Chung, E. (2020, August 06). Living with face masks: How to stow them, reuse disposables and

more. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/face-


How to Wash a Cloth Face Covering. (2020, May 22). Retrieved September 26, 2020, from



Non-medical masks and face coverings: How to put on, remove and clean. (2020, July 16).

Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-



Featured image is courtesy of Anna Shvets

Article Author: Victoria Huang

Article Editor: Valerie Shirobokov