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Is it time to replace your face mask?

Topic: Is it time to replace your face mask?

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended wearing cloth face coverings to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, many retailers began to make their own face masks. Most recently, the CDC has announced that face masks also protect the wearer, and more states and cities are issuing mask mandates as COVID-19 cases begin to rise again.

While you’re supposed to wash your cloth face mask after every use, the wear and tear from daily use on these masks has many people wondering whether or not they should just replace them.

“Since the basic principle of masks works by blocking the distance droplets travel, cloth masks will become less effective the more they get washed as they become more threadbare,” says Jon Chan, the Lab Manager of Testing at Reviewed.

To know when you should replace your face mask, Christopher Sulmonte, the project administrator for the Biocontainment Unit at John Hopkins Medical, explains you should think of them like a pair of underwear. 

“Obviously the single cleaning aspect is important, but the other piece is that if it starts to tatter or there are holes, it might be time to replace it,” he says. “We want the material to minimize those aerosolized droplets that come out of your mouth.”

While there’s no exact timeline for how long before a cloth mask will need to be replaced, Chan explains that the quality of the mask and the harshness of your washing machine are the main factors in deterioration.

Sulmonte also recommends having several face masks, especially if you’re going out every day or tend to sweat more, as moisture can impact the integrity of the mask. This way, you won’t need to do laundry as frequently.

To see if your mask needs to be replaced, Sulmonte says to hold the mask up to a light and check for any visible fading or see-through spots.

According to Chan, in colder weather, you can check if your mask is still effective by going outside and seeing how far your breath travels through your mask. If it’s further than an inch or so, that’s a good sign it’s time to replace it.

Topic Discussed: Is it time to replace your face mask?