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How to Safely Wash and Dry Fabric Masks

Praditkhorn Somboonsa/Shutterstock

Wearing a mask is important, and, when it comes to reusable cloth masks, properly washing and drying them is important, too. Here’s how to do it.

As a means to slow the spread of COVID-19, cloth face masks are becoming the norm all over the world. A fabric mask isn’t perfect protection against the airborne virus, but it’s a valuable added layer of defense. When you get home, you’ll want to carefully clean it to get rid of any virus particles that might have landed on it before you wear it again. Here are your safe mask-cleaning options.

Machine Washing

If you’re fortunate enough to have a washing machine at home, machine washing is the easiest, most efficient way to clean cloth masks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a washing machine will get masks safely clean. Just toss them in the washer and dryer with the rest of your outdoor clothes.

Use a hot-water setting and dry it on high heat. The heat combined with the laundry detergent will help degrade the virus. You can also use a detergent with bleach for added protection.

If you can, you might want to turn your hot water heater up to 140 degrees, the temperature that kills most germs. However, be careful when showering, since this higher temperature setting can burn you if you crank the hot water. If you have kids, it’s best not to turn your water heater up this high.

Even if you can’t adjust your hot water heater, though, the high-heat setting on your dryer should be enough to neutralize the virus. So, if you use a washing machine, always make sure to follow it with the dryer rather than hang-drying.

If you’re not ready to wash your mask yet, place it in a plastic bag so it can’t contaminate anything in the meantime.

Lastly, whether you make your own or buy them online, look for machine-washable, dryer-safe mask fabric. A delicate, handwash-only mask might look pretty, but it’s better to have the durability (and convenience) of machine-washable materials.

Handwashing

If you don’t have a washing machine, or don’t want to run a load of laundry every time you need to sanitize your masks, you can handwash them, instead.

Cloth masks hang drying on a small drying rack.
Charlie Waradee/Shutterstock

Mix a teaspoon of bleach in a quart of hot water and soak your masks in the solution for five minutes to kill the virus. Then, rinse your masks under running water. Give them a soak for a few minutes in clean water to further dilute and rinse away the last of the bleach. Finally, hang them up to dry.

Wait It Out

This isn’t the most efficient method, but viruses don’t live on fabric forever, so waiting for the virus to die off is also a viable “cleaning” option.

Although scientists aren’t 100 percent sure how long the coronavirus lives on fabric, it definitely won’t last past a week. So, you could put your used masks in a ziploc bag or a separate, unused room. Leave them there for a week, and then you can safely assume they’re virus-free.

Of course, human error can factor into any cleaning method and render it imperfect. You might miscalculate the days and put your mask back on too soon. You could forget to put the detergent in the washer.

For peace of mind, consider using more than one of these cleaning methods to ensure success. For example, you could handwash and dry a mask, and then leave it alone for a week to be on the safe side.

How to Store Clean Masks

Once you’ve cleaned your masks, don’t shove them in a drawer with the rest of your laundry. Seal them in an airtight container, like a ziploc bag or plastic storage container. This will keep them clean and uncontaminated. Ziploc bags are especially handy if you want to take a spare clean mask with you when you’re out and about.

Of course, always make sure to store clean masks apart from dirty ones, so you don’t forget which is which.

How to Check Your Masks for Damage

Effective washing methods tend to be harsh, so you should always check your masks for damage before wearing them again. Cloth masks don’t last forever, and it’s important to replace them as soon as they develop holes or damage.

Hold your masks up to the light and check for holes or thinning spots in the fabric. As soon as you see the fabric starting to thin out or form a visible hole, it’s time for a new mask.


The internet abounds with countless other mask-cleaning ideas, involving everything from microwaves to UV light. However, experts agree the methods listed here are the most effective and feasible for home care.

Washing your masks properly isn’t hard, but it’s an important step to keep yourself and those around you safe.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »

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