The CDC says you should wash reusable masks after every wear, so these clever cleaning hacks will make the task much easier.

By Kimberly Holland
Updated October 06, 2020
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Masks are a fact of life for us right now. We wear them to protect ourselves and others from respiratory droplets that may carry problematic pathogens, just like we maintain social distancing when outside our homes and follow arrows in grocery stores. It helps us slow and stop the spread of Covid-19, the only thing that will get us back to anything resembling a normal way of life here in the U.S.

But wearing masks also requires carrying for those masks. Unless you're using disposable masks each time you're out (and those must be thrown away after one use), you probably have cloth masks or reusable masks that can and should be washed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds Americans that there is a right way and a wrong way to clean masks, however, and the health and safety of your family could depend on the masks being properly washed.

How to Properly Clean Face Masks

The CDC outlines precise steps for getting face masks washed and ready for another wear.

  • Laundry machine: You can toss masks in with your regular laundry. Use laundry detergent, and wash on the warmest water possible.
  • Wash by hand: CDC says you can wash masks in a solution of "5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) household bleach per gallon of room temperature water." Soak the masks in the solution for five minutes, and rinse with cool water.
  • Dry: You can dry face masks in your dryer on the highest heat setting, or you can lay masks flat to air dry. The CDC suggests placing masks in direct sunlight if possible.

3 Kitchen Gadgets That Make Cleaning Masks Easier

If you need help keeping up with the influx of masks that need washing, these kitchen gadgets can help. They'll save you time, help you herd the multitude of masks, and keep a regular rotation of washing going so that no one is left rewearing a mask or, worse, going out without one entirely.

1. Instant Pot

Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker in Black on white background
Credit: Amazon

If you wear N95 masks and you must rewear them because your supply is low, you can use the Instant Pot to sanitize the respirator masks. (Note: It's always ideal to use N95 masks once and dispose of them.)

According to the CDC, moist heat is an effective way to decontaminate masks like the N95 respirator. (Two other options — ultraviolet germicidal irradiation and vaporous hydrogen peroxide — are also effective but difficult to administer in a home environment.) In fact, the Department of Homeland Security released a video showing how to use the beloved multicooker for just this purpose.

DHS says you can do this sanitization process up to five times per mask before you will need to dispose of the them. While it's not ideal, it's a safer way for people who are still experiencing PPE shortages that require these higher-grade filtration devices.

Buy it: Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, $79; amazon.com

2. Salad Spinner

A Cuisinart Salad Spinner on white background
Credit: Amazon

Reddit never fails to be a source of ingenuity, good memes, and great kitchen hacks. The latest: using a salad spinner as a stand in for handwashing and drying a lot of face masks.

Reddit user luvd1 writes, "Sounds odd but it works. Use hot water and detergent and agitate. Then rinse mask, clean salad spinner and spin dry. Doesn't completely dry the mask but gets water out to speed up drying time."

If you prefer to hand wash your face masks, the salad spinner can speed up the process. The large plastic bowl that surrounds the agitator typically serves as a salad bowl, but in this case it's the perfect mini washtub.

Fill it with the bleach solution recommended by the CDC or detergent. Give it a few spins during the five-minute soak. Then drain the bowl, rinse them to remove any bleach solution or detergent, rinse the masks with cool water, and give the masks a quick whirl to wring out remaining liquid.

Buy it: Cuisinart Salad Spinner, $20; amazon.com

3. Produce Bags

8 reusable produce bags with fruit and vegetables stand against a white background
Credit: Amazon

Herding masks is the new herding cats. Family members pop them into pockets, plop them onto tables, or drop them into floorboards. But you can rally them all in one place — and then wash them together — with the help of produce bags.

Pput a produce bag in your mudroom or by the door every family members uses to return home. Keep one in your car to collect masks after a family outing. Then, when you're ready to wash, drop them into the washing machine, and wash like normal. (Tie the strings in a knot to keep the bag closed.)

Or, if you have laundry bags for delicates, repurpose them as mask bags and put one in places your family typically passes in their comings and goings. That way, you can collect masks that need to be washed and returned to the pile or reusable masks without chasing them around the house.

Buy it: Utilifox Reuable Produce Bags, $14/set of 8; amazon.com

Masks to Buy if You Need Some Spares

Having a variety (and a volume) of masks is important. This way, you can make sure you never have an excuse to not go out, and you can rest assured your mask is clean and safe to use.

That may require you stock up on a few that you can keep handy in cars, purses, or bags. (Be sure to store them in a zip-top bag to protect them before wearing them.)

Perry Ellis Reusable Rounded Woven Fabric Face Masks
Credit: Amazon

Inexpensive options like these 100 percent cotton woven face masks are less than $5 a mask and come in a pack of three.

Buy it: Perry Ellis Reusable Rounded Woven Fabric Face Masks, $14/set of 3; amazon.com

two Lanier Wellness Kids 2-Layer Reusable Face Cover on white background
Credit: Amazon

For kids, these simple masks may make for fewer arguments (no fussing over prints and patterns), and they're easy to match to any outfits for school. The masks' inner layers are 100 percent, and the outside is a mix of cotton and polyester.

Buy it: Lanier Wellness Kids 2-Layer Reusable Face Cover, $13.42/pack of 2; amazon.com