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Machine-wash or hand-wash? Cleaning reusable cloth masks the right way

Is hanging your washed mask up the best way to dry it? Should you boil it in water? Here’s a quick guide.

You would have already collected your reusable mask by now, while the DIY-savvy among us might even already been using their own handsewn cloth masks. 

And just in time for the new measures, too, as it is now compulsory to wear these when leaving the house.

But with the increased use of your reusable mask, come the inevitable questions: How often and how should you wash it?

READ: COVID-19: How to wear a mask properly

Simply put, it’s just like how you would wash your clothes regularly. But what’s the frequency we’re talking about here? According to Dr Daniel Griffin, an infectious diseases expert at Columbia University, as often as you wash your underwear. In other words, after every wear.

As for how to clean your mask, here are some tips. Do note that the following advice is for reusable cloth masks, not the polyurethane foam masks that some of us may have received (if you have the latter, see video below for washing instructions). Also, do not wash and reuse N95 and surgical masks.


You can wash your masks, along with your clothes, in the washing machine. And you don't have to spend money on special antibacterial laundry soap either. "Antibacterial detergents or soaps have not proven consistently to have additional benefit over normal ones," said Dr Raymond Fong, the chief and senior consultant at Changi General Hospital's Infectious Diseases department. "Washing with clean, warm water and soap should suffice."

Dr Fong recommends using the hottest setting on your washing machine to neutralise the microbes, then let heat drying – be it direct sun or the dryer – eradicate any remaining pathogens on the mask.


If you’re concerned with the mask’s dye ruining your clothes in the washing machine – as some netizens have experienced – hand-wash it. 

"Wash your mask with warm, soapy water for at least one minute and dry it, preferably in the sun," said Dr Fong. "Regular cleaning, especially after a day’s use or when the mask is visibly soiled or moist is most important.

READ: House cleaning: How to disinfect the entire home to protect you from COVID-19


Whether you machine- or hand-wash your mask, drying it properly is just as important. "One study suggested that the duration of sun exposure required to reduce contamination of some viruses by 90 per cent is over an hour of direct exposure to midday sun," said Dr Fong.

On cloudy or rainy days, when there is not enough sun exposure, the dryer can be used. Plus, it has the added benefit of reaching temperatures that are high enough to neutralise some viruses, said Dr Fong.

If you don’t have a dryer at home, Dimitar Marinov, an assistant professor in the department of hygiene at the Medical University of Varna, said on MSN that you could iron or put your mask in a clean oven for 20 minutes at about 70 degrees Celsius.

READ: Wearing glasses, facial hair: Do these increase the risk of COVID-19 infection?


Boil your mask in water for five minutes, recommended Professor Rachel Noble, a microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on Pop Science. However, the downside to this method is, your mask will deteriorate after a few rounds of boiling. 

“Cloth face masks are going to have a lifetime. They deteriorate the same way your bed sheets fall apart wash after wash,” said Prof Noble. To be on the safe side, she recommended not boiling your mask more than 10 times. 

Taking that into consideration, the boiling method may be better used once a week to complement your daily washing by machine or hand.

Editor's Note: This article has been edited to remove references taken from a Forbes article about spraying masks with a five per cent bleach solution and letting them air-dry.

Source: CNA/bk