Keep yourself safe! How to properly handle and wash your face mask

Aug 16, 2020
Be smart when it comes to your mask. Source: Getty.

Amid the global pandemic, face masks and coverings have become the newest protective accessory. And other than a select few ‘anti-maskers’ who have been making a point to flout the rules, most people in Covid-19 hotspots around the country are diligently sporting face coverings for their own safety and the safety of others.

However, what happens when the mask that’s supposed to be blocking out the germs ends up being a carrier of bacteria itself? Dr Vincent Candrawinata, a leading health and wellness expert, has brought the issue to the surface and revealed that face masks can harbour and transmit germs including viruses like Covid-19 if they’re handled incorrectly.

“It really doesn’t matter what type of mask you are wearing, if you handle it incorrectly, you can spread the virus from your mask to yourself,”  said. “In fact, you have a higher risk of getting Covid-19 if you do wear a mask and don’t use it appropriately – especially because when people wear a mask they tend not to observe strict physical distancing.”

Candrawinata said that although he consistently urges people to wear surgical grade masks when they’re out and about and especially when they’re around other people, it’s also important to understand how to use the mask to ensure you’re being as safe as possible. While there’s different types of masks, he discussed the three general groupings that everyone should be aware of.

The first – and most restrictive – are the N95 respirators which should generally be saved for medical staff. The second are surgical masks that are loose-fitting, disposable and good for everyday use. And finally, the third are face coverings which can be homemade, reusable and, together with social distancing, shield from direct exposure of droplets and face touching.

Although many think that the N95 respirator might be the safest option, due to its uncomfortably tight fit, it can actually make people more likely to touch their face while making adjustments which then puts them at a higher risk of contracting the virus. So, when opting for everyday use, a surgical grade mask tends to be the better choice for the general public.

However, when you wear a single-use mask, you have to ensure you dispose of it after you’ve used it. This means don’t take it into your car, don’t put in into your handbag or pocket and avoid using your phone where it could touch the mask. Instead, throw it in the nearest bin and sanitise your hands straight away.

Candrawinata also suggested carrying the masks around in a ziplock bag and using a kind of mask that suits your skin type to avoid unnecessary touching.

When you do go out and need to wear a mask, ensure the mask does not itch or irritate you. You will only end up playing and fidgeting with it – increasing the risk of catching the virus from your mask,” he said.

Meanwhile, when it comes to homemade face coverings, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) they should be washed after every use. You can throw them in the washing machine with your regularly laundry while using detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth used to make the mask before throwing them in dryer or laying flat to air dry in the sunlight.

Alternatively, you can wash them by hand with a bleach solution made by mixing 1/3 cup bleach per 3.7 litres of room temperature water. However, you have to ensure your bleach is intended for disinfection and not past its expiration date. Soak the mask in the bleach solution for five minutes before rinsing thoroughly with cool water.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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