How to Clean Your Cloth Face Mask

The following Family & Consumer Sciences article printed in the 2020 Fall edition of the Oldham County Extension Newsletter.

cleaning cloth face masks

Cleaning Your Cloth Face Covering

Cloth face coverings have become part of the wardrobe for many people venturing out in public. In many states, including Kentucky, wearing a face covering in nearly all public settings is mandatory, as outlined in Executive Order 2020-586. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has provided a comprehensive set of guidelines for making, wearing, and caring for cloth face coverings.

The CDC is recommending that you wash cloth face coverings after each use, which for many people, means daily. Therefore, it is a good idea for each person to own more than one cloth face covering so that while you wash and dry the used face coverings, you have a clean face covering “ready to go.” Below are the CDC’s cleaning guidelines for cloth face coverings.

Washing cloth face coverings:

  • If machine washing: It is okay to include your face covering with your regular laundry. Use regular detergent and the warmest water setting appropriate for the cloth face covering fabric.
  • If hand-washing: Soak the face covering in a bleach solution for 5 minutes (4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of room temperature water). Rinse thoroughly with clean, room temperature water.

Drying cloth face coverings:

  • Be sure that the cloth face covering is dry completely before wearing it again.
  • If using a dryer: Set dryer to the highest heat setting and leave the face covering in until it’s completely dry.
  • If air-drying: Lay flat and allow it to dry completely. If possible, dry the covering in direct sunlight.

Stain removal tips for cloth face coverings (recommended by the American Cleaning Institute and Good Housekeeping):

  • Dirt and grime (including body oil and sweat): Pre-treat with a spray labeled as “enzymatic,” and wash with regular laundry detergent.
  • Make-up and lipstick: Pre-treat with a stain remover spray or laundry detergent. Gently rub the area before laundering. Also try placing the stained side down on a layer of paper towels and wet the opposite side of the face covering with a small amount of rubbing alcohol, then firmly dab the stain from the backside so it transfers to the paper towels underneath.
  • Food: The most effective treatment depends on the food content, but in general, treat as soon as possible. Scrape off excess food, and spot treat the food stain with laundry detergent. Soak the cloth face covering in warm water for at least 30 minutes (or until the stain fades) before washing with regular detergent.
  • Sunscreen: Common chemical formulas in sunscreen may cause fabric damage if washed with chlorine or oxygen bleach, so it’s best to avoid using those to treat sunscreen stains. You can treat some sunscreen stains with a rust stain remover.

Other important tips about laundering cloth face coverings:

  • Some cloth face covering manufacturers recommend throwing out their cloth face covering products after 15 or 20 washes. This can be for a couple of reasons. The fabric may become “less dense” (therefore “less effective”) after multiple washings because of the breakdown of fibers and lint loss. Another reason is detergent build-up, which could limit the effectiveness or “breathability” of your cloth face covering. These wash limitations are not necessarily steadfast rules, but if your cloth face covering becomes damaged, worn out, or is no longer functioning properly, replace it with a new cloth face covering.
  • To prevent detergent build-up, use the “extra rinse” cycle on your washer, if available.
  • Avoid using fabric softener on your cloth face coverings.
  • Using excessive amounts of bleach may damage your face covering and weaken the cloth fibers and elastic.
  • To prevent fasteners, elastics, or ties from tangling in your laundry, wash your face covering in a mesh wash bag.

Sources: Jeanne Badgett, Senior Extension Associate for Clothing, Textiles, and Household Equipment; Kentucky Governor’s website; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Cleaning Institute; Good Housekeeping; CNN.

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