How to Clean and Sanitize a Face Mask

red polka dot face mask hanging on hooks

 the_burtons/ Moment/ Getty Images

Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Face masks can protect both the wearer and others. A face mask, when worn properly, protects the wearer from allergens like pollen, small airborne particles like sawdust, and most airborne germs. If a person is ill, a face mask helps limit the transmission of disease to those nearby from body fluids expelled during talking, coughing, and sneezing.

Sturdy face masks made from a tightly woven cotton or cotton/polyester blend can be washed at home and reused.

Warning

Disposable or single-use face masks made from paper or non-woven fibers and N-95 respirators cannot be washed at home.

Before You Begin

Whether you are using a cloth mask to prevent disease or block allergens, it is important to wear and remove it correctly. Wash your hands before putting on the mask and then try not to touch it again until you remove it. For the most protection, the mask should be worn tightly on the face and cover both the nose and mouth. (Note: The mask must cover your nose. If it only covers your mouth and not your nose, it will not be effective.) Identify the outside and inside sides of the mask and be sure to always place the inside against your face.

When removing a mask, untie the strings or slip the elastic bands from your ears. Do not grab the front of the mask. Place the cloth mask into the clothes washer or sink or into a paper bag that can be closed if you don't plan to wash it immediately. Wash your hands after removing the mask.

How Often to Wash a Cloth Face Mask

Whether you are using a bandana or a more structured cloth face mask, it should be washed after every wearing. It's a good idea to have several on hand so that you have a dry, fresh one ready.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Sink or plastic tub
  • Mesh laundry bag (optional)
  • Clothes dryer, clothesline, or drying rack

Materials

  • Heavy-duty detergent
  • Laundry sanitizer, chlorine bleach or pine oil
  • Paper bag
  • Disposable gloves

Instructions

  1. Protect Your Hands

    When it's time to wash a face mask, it is important to protect your hands with disposable gloves. Keep the mask away from your face and wash your hands, even if you are wearing gloves, after handling the masks.

  2. Sort the Fabrics

    If the mask is made from white, colorfast cotton, or cotton/polyester fabric, it can be washed with white bed sheets or towels. If the mask is made from brightly-colored fabrics, it should be tested to make sure the fabric is colorfast before it is washed for the first time.

    Dampen a cotton swab and rub it over the fabric and any trim. If any color transfers to the cotton swab, the fabric is not colorfast and it will bleed dye in the wash. This mask should be washed alone or hand-washed to prevent dye-transfer to other clothes in the load.

    If you are washing a homemade mask fashioned from a scarf or bandana with rubber bands or hair ties, remove the bands before washing. Also, remove any non-woven inserts like coffee filter papers and dispose of them.

  3. Use a Mesh Laundry Bag

    A mesh laundry bag will help keep masks together in the washer. If the masks have string ties, the bag will also help prevent tangling.

    Tip

    The entire mesh laundry bag and the masks can be tossed directly into the dryer.

  4. Set the Water Temperature and Washer Cycle

    Cloth face masks should be washed in hot water using the normal cycle. If you are hand washing the mask in a sink, use hot water.

  5. Add the Detergent

    Use a heavy-duty detergent like Tide or Persil that contains enzymes to break down body soil so it can be flushed away in the wash water.

  6. Disinfect the Fabric

    While using hot water for washing and then drying on high heat will effectively clean masks, if someone is ill adding a disinfectant offers another layer of protection.

    The type of disinfectant you should use is dependent upon the type of fabric. While chlorine bleach is an excellent disinfectant, it can damage the fabric if used incorrectly.

    • Phenolic disinfectants, like Lysol Laundry Sanitizer, are effective in all water temperatures and can be used on white and colored fabrics. Phenolic disinfectants are usually added during the rinse cycle. Always read product labels and follow the directions carefully.
    • Liquid chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) may be used in hot, warm or cold water temperatures on white fabrics only. To be effective, there must be a 5.25% to 6.15% concentration of sodium hypochlorite. Not all chlorine bleach formulas are that strong, so read the labels. Examples of liquid chlorine bleaches include Clorox and all supermarket house brands.
    • Pine oil disinfectants are effective in hot and warm water and can be used on both white and colored fabrics. Brand names include Pine-Sol, Spic-n-Span Pine, and Lysol Pine Action. They should be added at the beginning of the wash cycle. To be effective, the product must contain 80% pine oil.
  7. Dry the Mask on High Heat

    Set the dryer temperature to high and tumble dry the masks. The high heat will help kill any lingering bacteria. If you do not have a dryer, place the masks in a spot where they will receive direct sunlight.

Storage

When the masks are dry, store the freshly washed masks in a covered container (like a shoe box or small plastic tub) until you are ready to use one.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. How to Safely Wear and Take Off a Cloth Face Covering. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  2. How to Wash a Cloth Face Covering. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention