How Many Times Can I Wear My COVID Mask?

Apr 21, 2021

Most of us are looking for ways to decrease our carbon footprint. So the wastefulness of constantly disposing of masks is guilt-inducing. Still, our primary focus should remain on keeping ourselves (and others) safe. 

Reusable masks are appropriate for most non-medical purposes/environments. And they help to bridge the gap, reducing waste without compromising protection.

A reusable mask, however, is not designed for infinite reuse. Over multiple uses, even the most resilient materials lose their protective capabilities. In this article, we look at how many times you can reuse a mask, how often you should wash it, and how to maintain its protective features after a wash. As well, we discuss whether you can reuse a disposable mask.

How Long Can You Reuse a COVID-19 Mask?

Reusable masks aren’t just more eco-friendly. They also tend to provide a little more flair, comfort, and personality. So, naturally, we want to keep using them as long as possible. But after too many reuses, they start to lose their effectiveness.

How long this takes, depends on the material and design of the mask. Some fabrics, like cotton, maintain their properties after several washes. Generally, you can keep reusing these so long as there are no visible signs of wear or soiling remaining after a wash.

Other masks and filter materials have a much shorter shelf-life. Each wash degrades them, resulting in less protection in as little as 1 to 15 washes. Because of this, it’s important to look at the packaging instructions to see how many washes a mask is good for. Once it hits the final recommended wash cycle, it’s time to move on to a new mask.

Of course, reusable masks can degrade before their wash limit is hit. After each wash, inspect for damage and set in soiling or staining. If found, toss it.

How & How Often Should They Be Washed?

Plain and simple, you should wash your face mask after every use. The grime and bacteria the mask absorbs not only builds up over time but also reduces the protective features. Even if the mask is not visibly dirty, you should wash it. Viruses, bacteria, and biological particulates are generally not visible to the naked eye.

To this end, it’s worth having multiple masks available, so you don’t have to rely on one mask. No one wants to be endlessly waiting for wash cycles to run each errand.

Fortunately, washing reusable masks is easy. You can simply throw it in the washing machine with your regular laundry. Then you can leave them to air dry or place on a low tumble dry setting. Make sure to be aware of any filter in the mask, and that you know whether it can be washed or should be tossed after use. This information should be available on the packaging.

Generally, it’s preferable to use unscented detergents to prevent overpowering smells.

You don’t have to wait around for enough laundry to pile up to be worth or load, or make the trek to the laundromat every time you want to wash a mask. Hand washing is equally effective. Make sure to use plenty of hot water and soap for thorough cleaning.

Reusable Mask Post-Wash Care Tips

  • Inspect for soiling and wear after washing. These may be indicative that the mask is no longer protective.
  • Inspect the ear loops. If these have any damage they can prevent the mask from fitting properly, leaving gaps and exposures.
  • Iron polypropylene and polypropylene-combination masks. This material loses some of its protective features after a wash. But going over them with a hot iron can reactivate them.

Are Disposable Masks Reusable?

Having disposable in the name gives a pretty clear indication that these masks aren’t meant for multiple uses. But, at the same time, we’ve probably all been guilty of reusing a disposable at some point. Let’s say you go out for a walk outdoors and don’t come into contact with anyone else. Your risk of exposure is pretty low and throwing out a seemingly perfectly good mask may seem wasteful, or even silly.

Fortunately, you can reuse a disposable mask. At least, under the right conditions. The appropriateness of reusability typically comes down to exposure risk and mask condition. 

If you’re in a high-risk environment, such as a hospital, you should toss the mask after each use. There’s a reason disposables are used in these environments. In a high-risk exposure environment, reusing any mask isn’t the safest choice.

As well, if the mask has visible signs of damage, wear, or appears dirty just throw it out.

On the other hand, if you have only worn the mask in low-risk environments and in areas with low COVID rates, you can probably get a few more uses out of it. However, you don’t want to keep wearing it back to back.

If you plan to reuse a disposable mask, a good plan is to place it in a paper bag. Leave it in the bag for at least three days to allow any virus on the mask to dissipate. Using this method, you can have multiple disposables ready to go at any time. Of course, the intention of a disposable mask is to get rid of it after a single use.

Keeping Your Mask Safe, Effective, & Comfortable

Whether you’re breaking in a new mask or reusing a favorite it’s important to make sure it is not only safe and effective, but comfortable. The easiest way to upgrade the comfort of any mask - without compromising its protection - is with a face mask insert. 

The PowerAir breathable mask insert fits under any mask, changing the shape to improve fit, comfort, and airflow. 

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