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With the emergence of COVID-19 variants such as the delta variant — essentially more contagious than others — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that Americans, regardless of vaccination status, return to wearing a mask indoors if in an area with high levels of transmission. In addition, teachers, students, staff, and visitors are also advised to wear masks inside K-12 schools.

While you may have found the best masking option and mask cleaning routine for you, you may want to reevaluate your process in light of the recent surge, especially if you are someone who has begin to relax in the proper care and cleansing of the mask (we get it — it’s been a year).

It is important to regularly clean a reusable mask, for your comfort and safety. Cassandra Pierre, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, a dirty or “dirty” mask can reduce the effectiveness of the mask itself. It can also become an irritant to your skin if it contains a build-up of bacteria.

Here’s a mask cleaning guide that will keep you — and others — safe, from how to clean to how often.

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Before cleaning my mask, how should I safely remove it?

The CDC now recommends wearing a face covering in public.

Before washing the mask, you need to focus on properly removing the mask to minimize the possibility of exposure to viral particles. Any part of the mask can become contaminated, so be sure not to touch your eyes, mouth, nose, or any other surface when handling your mask.

According to the CDC, you should first remove the mask by untying the lanyard or stretching the earlobe. Use the mask by its ear loop or lanyard only. Once you’ve removed the mask, fold the outer corners together. From there, you can place your mask in something like a laundry bag or plastic bag until you’re ready to wash. Once done, wash your hands.

What is the best way to wash my mask?

Cloth masks can be washed by hand or in the washing machine.

As simple as that sounds, washing cloth masks with soap and water does the job to keep them clean.

“Warm water and any cleaner you are used to using at home will be very effective,” says Dr. Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist associate at Tufts Medical Center. .

Cloth masks can be hand washed or put in the washer and dryer, depending on your needs or what feels most convenient. Andujar Vazquez recommends hand washing, as you may not be washing as often after each mask use.

As for drying cloth masks, you can completely let them dry in the wind. Although, if you want to take extra precautions, using a dryer on high heat can help kill any remaining particles.

Like any other fabric, cloth masks can start to fail with repeated use and washing. Be sure to watch out for any fraying or wear of the material, as this can degrade the quality of the protective layer.

How often should I wash my mask?

Cloth masks can dry in the air after being washed.

As for frequency, the CDC recommends washing your mask “whenever it gets dirty, or at least daily.” If you are not sure how dirty your mask is, the safest way is to rinse it off after each use.

Pierre told us: “My recommendation is to wash your mask every day. “If you’re using it and are out doing errands, you run the risk of droplets settling on the surface of the mask.”

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