two hands cleans a cloth face mask

When it’s time to replace your face mask

Are you worn out by the pandemic?

You are not alone. Billions of people around the world share your fatigue. And it’s not just people. There’s one very important tool in the fight against COVID-19 that you need to remember.

Your cloth face masks are probably worn out, too.

If so, it’s time for replacements.

SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, travels in tiny droplets emitted when people breathe, talk, cough, laugh, sing, etc.

Wearing a mask can limit the droplets you put into the air and, therefore, protects other people. A mask also can help protect you from droplets emitted by others.

But worn-out masks become ineffective.

Signs of a worn-out mask

“Loops, fit and damage to material. Those are the big three to watch for with your mask,” said Lori Grooms, director of Infection Prevention and Control for OSF HealthCare.

“The first thing is the earloops, or the ties, that hold the mask to your face. If those become stretched out, discard the mask.”

Good loops or ties help ensure that snug fit.

“You want the mask to stick to your face and stay snug over the nose and below the chin,” Lori said. “It should also touch all four sides, not just top and bottom. You should not have gaps. If you can’t get the mask to meet the bridge of your nose and stay on your cheeks, discard the mask.”

Finally, inspect the fabric of your mask.

“If you look at it and see holes or tears of any kind, even in just one layer, discard the mask and get a new one,” Lori said.

Examine the fabric

It’s pretty easy to know when the earloops or ties are shot. Same when the fit gets loose. You can just feel it.

But the cloth in your mask can lose effectiveness long before you notice it’s torn.

“One thing we do in health care is hold it up to the light and look for pinholes or any area where you can see light coming through,” Lori said. “If you can see light coming through, it’s time to consider getting a new mask.”

Take care of your mask

You can extend the life of your cloth masks by properly taking care of them. Lori provided these tips:

  • Wash your hands before and after handling the mask.
  • Put it on and take it off by only handling the earloops or ties.
  • When you take off the mask, fold and place it in a container, such as a paper sack. “A paper sack is breathable and will allow the mask to dry out,” she said.
  • Don’t set the mask on a surface or hang it on your car’s rear-view mirror. Doing so risks contamination or accidental tearing.

You can wash the mask with your regular laundry. Just use warm or hot water and detergent. Dry on a warm or hot setting as well. And make sure the mask is thoroughly dry.

A dry mask is a good mask

Lori emphasized the importance of keeping the mask dry.

“The thing about winter is, you really want to have more than one mask,” she said. “As you’re out running errands, especially as you go from cold to warm air and back, you’re going to have more condensation in your breath, and that will make your mask wet. That will make the mask less effective.

“As soon as your mask gets wet or moist, take it off and put on a new mask. It’s a good idea to always have a clean one in your car, or in your bag or coat pocket, so you can change out when the first one gets wet.”

Cloth masks are available for sale at both traditional box stores and online retail outlets. The most effective masks have two or three layers of cloth.

You can also make your own. OSF HealthCare provides step-by-step instructions for creating your own cloth mask.

About Author: Kirk Wessler

Kirk Wessler started work as a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare in January 2019. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, he previously worked for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and most recently at the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, MaryFrances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. He’s on a quest to master playing guitar and golf. He also loves to travel, especially driving back roads.

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Categories: COVID-19