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The wearing of face masks is now widespread, with vast numbers of people all over the world using masks to help stop the spread of coronavirus. In many countries, washable face masks have been hugely important in helping the fight against this dangerous virus. Their use is now recommended in a wide range of different workplaces, and members of the public are being asked to wear masks when they visit retail outlets and hospitality venues. But how safe are these washable masks, and what steps need to be taken to ensure their efficiency? 

Good hygiene practices aren’t just important in stopping the spread of coronavirus, they’re also crucial if we are to keep our face masks in optimum condition. If masks are not washed regularly, in the correct way, then they will undoubtedly lose some of their protective features, and they might even start to pose a threat of contamination. Read on to find out more about why it’s so important to wash your face mask, and what would happen if you never did. 

Can a lack of washing cause illness, spots or breakouts? 

Not washing a face mask regularly isn’t just a cause for concern in terms of virus spread. It can also have other damaging effects on a wearer. Masks are designed to trap droplets such as coughs and sneezes, which might contain germs and viruses. If masks are not washed, bacteria and other dangerous particles can start to build up in the fabric, and the risks posed by this build up will grow over time. 

If any viral droplets are trapped by a mask, it is vital that that mask is washed thoroughly before being worn again. If it isn’t, the wearer risks accidentally contaminating themselves, or those around them. This is particularly important if masks are being worn in high-risk situations, where the potential for virus exposure is heightened. 

Those who are required to wear masks for extended periods, such as those working in retail outlets for example, have reported skin irritations and breakouts as a result of prolonged mask usage. If masks are not cleaned regularly, this problem can quickly be exacerbated. 

Any bacteria lurking in fabric that’s being held close to sensitive areas such as the face may well cause dermatological problems that can be difficult to resolve. But regular washing can help to keep these problems at bay, ensuring that skin remains fresh and undamaged no matter how long masks need to be worn for. 

How often should cloth masks be replaced? Do they become less effective after multiple washes? 

Cloth masks can be kept and worn many times, as long as they are laundered after every wear. The masks are designed to be reusable, and will therefore provide the same protection to wearers no matter how many times they’re worn, washed and worn again. This is one of the key benefits of choosing a washable mask over a disposable option. 

While washable fabric masks don’t provide quite the same level of protection as some of the more specialised, medical-grade options, they are well suited to day to day life. Their protective quality will not be diminished by multiple washes. Provided they are washed in line with manufacturers’ instructions, the masks will be just as effective every time they’re used. 

Washable masks are perfect for wearers looking for protection as they use public transport, and they’re being recommended for visits to supermarkets and other retail stores, for example. Their use is also advised for visits to doctors surgeries and pharmacies. 

Which masks cannot be washed? 

Not all face masks are washable. Some are designed to be worn once, and then disposed of. These options, which include Teflon masks and surgical masks, tend to be used more regularly in medical settings such as hospitals, dental surgeries and clinics. Ideally, masks like these will be worn for a short period of time and then discarded in a safe and careful manner, eliminating any risk of contamination from the mask. 

Teflon masks and surgical masks can be reused in some settings, however. If the risk of contamination is relatively low, it may be possible to use a mask several times before it needs to be discarded. If a mask cannot be laundered in the same way as a fabric face covering, it’s best to clean it using sterilizer. The chemicals in sterilising solutions will reduce any risk of contamination from particles held by the mask. 

Do masks lose their effectiveness in time? 

Some masks, such as surgical masks and respirators, come with a specific expiry date, after which they should not be used. However, for most fabric face coverings and washable masks their effectiveness will not diminish significantly over time. 

If in doubt, check with the manufacturer or your chosen mask to establish whether or not the mask has an expiry date, and ask if the manufacturer has any recommendations on how long the mask should be used for. Bear in mind that the guidance around this may vary according to the materials used in your chosen mask, the manufacturing process and the environment in which the masks are being worn. 

How to wash a face mask

Cloth face masks are relatively easy to wash, but it’s a good idea to brush up on the latest washing advice to ensure that your mask isn’t harboring any harmful particles or bacteria. 

It’s recommended that masks are washed at a high temperature. Masks can be laundered in domestic washing machines, but cycles running on low temperatures are not advised. For the best possible results, face masks should be washed with a good laundry detergent. Detergents will help to remove any damaging particles or bacteria from the mask while it’s being cleaned, ensuring that the washed face mask is completely clean and safe to use again. 


Face masks are an incredibly powerful form of defence against bacteria, viruses and other harmful particles. They’ve already proven effective in protecting wearers against the coronavirus, and they’re particularly beneficial when it comes to stopping the spread of this disease. 

To ensure that your mask is working as well as it can, and providing the best possible defence against dangerous droplets, make sure you wash it regularly at a high temperature. With careful washing and good hygiene practices, masks will retain their effectiveness for a prolonged period of time.