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How to Not Get Coronavirus from Your Face Mask

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How to Not Get Coronavirus from Your Face Mask

Apr 22, 2020

A good protective measure against COVID-19 is to wear a face mask—if you're asymptomatic, face masks can help contain the spread of droplets from your coughs and sneezes. It's important to keep your face masks clean, especially homemade ones. Medical Director for Occupational Medicine Dr. Jeremy Biggs talks about face mask hygiene.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: You're wearing your homemade cloth mask in public just to be a good citizen to protect others in case you are asymptomatic and you cough and sneeze so you don't spread those droplets. But the next question is, how should you handle and care for your mask to make sure you minimize the chance of contamination?

Dr. Jeremy Biggs is from University of Utah Health. And what's the first thing I should consider when it comes to my mask?

Dr. Biggs: Anytime you touch your mask, you wash your hands. So either when you take it off, wash your hands, or sanitize if you have hand sanitizer. Wash your hands. And then when you put it back on, if it hasn't been just washed, right, then again you would do the same hand hygiene, either washing and/or hand sanitizer.

Interviewer: All right, yeah. Washing your hands, that makes total sense, because you're putting your hands up by your face, and you want to be sure that, you know, they're clean if they're going to be that close to your face. And you also don't want to contaminate that mask. So what about putting on your mask? Is there a certain way that I should be doing that?

Dr. Biggs: As you're taking the mask on and off, look at it as possibly contaminated on the outside. So don't ever touch the outside of your mask. Okay. When you take it on and off, grab it by whatever. If it's tied, untie it. Untie the neck first and then the upper. So the lower one first and then the upper one. Place it down, face down, onto like a paper towel or a towel or something so that when you go to put it back on, you again only grab the straps. Don't touch the mask itself. Put the mask on. You don't ever want to take the mask, put it below your chin. You don't want to take your mask, put it on your arm or hang it from your ear or any of those things, because, again, whatever may be on that mask will then be all over those surfaces.

The biggest thing is when you are wearing it, do your very, very best to just leave it on. Don't take it on and off unless you absolutely have to. The theory there is you have a greater chance of contaminating both yourself and other surfaces if you're constantly taking that mask on and off.

Interviewer: Yeah. So it sounds like one just has to kind of develop a routine where they kind of get into this vibe of making sure that they're washing their hands always before and after they touch the mask and grabbing it by the strings like that so you're not touching the front or the inside. So what about cleaning the mask? Are there any . . . do I need to do something other than soap and water?

Dr. Biggs: Luckily, when we're talking about the COVID-19 virus, it's an enveloped virus, right, so it has an envelope of lipids on the outside. Pretty easy to break that down and kill it. Heat does it. Soap and detergent do it. So when you're washing the masks, the hotter you can have the water, the better, and the hotter you can have the air if you're drying it, the better. And if you add a detergent, good. I'm also . . . at our house, we're adding vinegar to our laundry, because vinegar has also been shown to help kill the virus.

Interviewer: All right. And I think, earlier, you said wash it every day. You mean, do I really have to wash it every day?

Dr. Biggs: I recommend washing it every day, depending on how often you have to wear it. Some people aren't wearing their masks all day, every day. If you wear it for 20 minutes to go to the store, and right now that's all you're wearing it and you have a nice safe place to keep it, you could probably do a couple of days before you wash it. The virus doesn't seem to live super long on cloth. There's still some information that we don't know. We don't know exactly how long that is, but it's probably not much more than a couple of days at the most.

Interviewer: All right. Dr. Biggs, thank you very much for giving us some tips on keeping ourselves safe when we're wearing our mask to keep others safe.

This information was accurate at the time of publication. Due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, some information may have changed since the original publication date.