Starting to wear a face mask in public? What you need to know about when you need to wash it and when you need to toss it

ByElaina Athans KTRK logo
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Starting to wear a face mask? When to wash it and when to toss it
Starting to wear a face mask? When to wash it and when to toss it.

Surely by now you've seen people wearing them at the grocery stores. Perhaps you've donned one yourself.

Or maybe last week you heard White House officials say the CDC was changing its guidance to encourage that face coverings be worn in public settings, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

WakeMed's Medical Director Dr. Graham Snyder is offering recommendations on how long folks can wear these items before they need to be replaced.

Cloth Masks

More people are turning to cloth masks and videos tutorials are popping up showing you how to make them.

The United States Surgeon General even did a demonstration saying it'll offer some protection.

"Is it a hundred percent? No. But it could help some," said Dr. Snyder.

He says the option is better than wearing nothing and he would recommend it to his own family members.

Just like cloths get dirty, they need to go in the washer and get cleaned with hot water to kill any germs.

"Viral particles are going to be able to get through a (porous) cloth mask much easier than they can a medical mask," he said. "At the same time, if you're the one who's coughing, your water droplets are much less likely to spread to other people."

US Surgeon General's tutorial on how to make a face mask

Americans can make face coverings at home using scarves, bandanas, hand towels and T-shirts.

Surgical Masks

These are what most people think of when they think of masks. It is a mass produced mask with string that loops around your ears and fabric that covers from below your chin to above your nose.

These masks are not recommended to be re-worn multiple times without being sterilized. Experts suggest they are good for about 8 hours of use.

"The rough number that we're working with right now is an 8-hour day before it needs to go through some sort of sterilization procedure," said Dr. Snyder.

US Surgeon General: Face masks shouldn't be worn at 'expense of social distancing'

N95 Masks

These are coveted and the respirator on the front makes it highly desirable.

Health officials aren't recommending that you go out and try to get one. They are desperately needed for medical professionals.

But if you already own one, know that you're really not supposed to be wearing these for weeks on end.

Snyder says the maximum amount of time is 8 or 8.5 hours.

"The longer you wear it, the wetter it will get and it will degrade," he said. "It will not be the same quality after a day as it was originally."