Health

You’ve Been Washing Your Face Mask Wrong All Along

And other top tips to help ensure you’re wearing your face mask correctly.

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It's been one of the most frequently asked questions since the coronavirus developed into a global pandemic: should I be wearing a face mask? The British public are advised to wear face coverings when in public – a stance also taken by officials at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. Yet, some people are still unsure about what is the correct way to wear a face mask during this pandemic.

While the efficacy of masks against the spread of COVID-19 was is still up for debate towards the start of the pandemic, it's now clear that wearing a face covering does help to slow the spread of the virus. The Covid-19 virus is usually spread by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking which can also be picked up from surfaces. According to experts, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances when used correctly, helping to protect others.

Wearing a mask incorrectly is risky. The UK government website now has a page dedicated to the proper practices when it comes to wearing a face mask, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also published a document with advice on this topic.

One thing experts seem to agree on is that any mask is better than no mask. While PPE and high-grade medical masks should still be prioritised for medical staff and carers, and masks and cloth face coverings can be made using common home supplies, , some experts believe that the new variant is cause for upgrading your mask materials. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Vox that when it comes to avoiding an infection, “a surgical mask is better than a cloth mask, a tight-fitting surgical mask is better than a loose-fitting mask, and an N95 is better than a surgical mask.” Frieden added that: “The fact that [the new variants] are so infectious suggests to me having a better mask is a good idea.” If you're interested in making your own, gov.uk has instructions on how to do so.

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Whatever kind face mask you have, it's important to make sure you are using it in the correct way. Stay as safe as possible by avoiding common mistakes with this easy step-by-step checklist.

1

Do not touch your mask while wearing it

Avoid touching the front of your mask and the part that comes into contact with your nose and mouth as much as possible. When taking the mask on or off, you should use the ear loops or ties and, once it's on, do not adjust it. After you've taken the mask off, do not touch your face at all until you have washed your hands thoroughly.

2

Make sure it covers your mouth and nose

Your mask should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably. In most cases, this means it'll come down below the chin and sit over the bridge of your nose. Be sure the mask is secure so it won't slip down while you're out and about.

3

Keep gaps to a minimum

Tightening your mask to minimise gaps will ensure the best protection and avoid it slipping while you're out and about.

4

Use clean hands

Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser at every stage of using your mask: before putting it on, before taking it off, and after taking it off. As mentioned earlier, do not touch or adjust your mask once it's in place.

5

Wash your mask regularly

Despite official advice that we should be wearing a fresh face covering every time, a YouGov poll revealed only a third of people (32%) are washing their mask after every use, the correct procedure, with one in seven Brits (15%) having never washed their reusable mask at all.

You should wash your face covering regularly. By regularly, experts mean after every use – even if you’re only wearing your mask for 10 minutes to head to the shops. “You can imagine if someone is infected and they are wearing a cotton fabric mask that is heavily contaminated, it’s possible that those particles could carry the virus,” Prof William Ristenpart, a chemical engineer at the University of California, told the Guardian. “Of course, you can’t wash it every 20 minutes, but every five or six days is way too long.”

According to Dr Yves Van Laethem, an infectious disease expert who spoke to the Brussels Times, "face masks should be machine washed at 60 degrees Celsius with conventional detergent — you don’t need any particular disinfectants." If you do not have access to a washing machine, Van Laethem suggests putting the face mask in a pot with simmering water or ironing it at a temperature "above that at which the virus may survive.," and making sure that you scrub the mask for at least 20 seconds. However you wash your mask, you must wait for it to be completely dry before wearing it again, as moisture can reduce its efficacy.

You should store used face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them. The more times you handle your face covering without washing it or replacing it, the greater the risk will be.