COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Mask Mistakes You're Making Now

You likely have hand-washing down pat.

You Don't Wash Up Before (and After) Masking Up

You likely have hand-washing down pat. To keep germs at bay and help your mask do its job, wash your hands or use 60%-alcohol hand sanitizer before putting it on and anytime you need to adjust it on your face. Handle your mask by the loops or ties -- don't touch the front or your face. To take it off, grab the ear loops or untie the strings, bottom ties first. Then clean your hands again.

It may be brand-new, but many things have touched your latest mask before you get it, especially if it’s handmade.

You Don't Wash a New Mask

It may be brand-new, but many things have touched your latest mask before you get it, especially if it's handmade. So wash it in hot water (160 F) with residue-free detergent or soap. Rinse it well with fresh water. Then hang to dry. Or soak your mask for 5 minutes in a quart of water with 2 tablespoons of bleach, or a gallon with a third of a cup of bleach.

But your mask needs a clean place to stay when it's not on your face.

You Don't Store It Right

It's easy to toss your mask onto the dashboard or seat when you get in the car. But your mask needs a clean place to stay when it's not on your face. If it isn't wet or soiled, put it in a dry paper or mesh bag so it won't mildew or sour. If you're out to eat, you can stash it in a clean pocket or purse in a pinch -- but never on the table. After your meal, wash your hands and then put your mask back on with the same side facing out.

Masks are magnets for bacteria and viruses.

You Don a Dirty Mask

Masks are magnets for bacteria and viruses. They can let in infections if they're worn against your face for a long time. After each wearing, toss your mask into regular laundry with hot (160 F) water. Or hand-wash it in steamy, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Tumble dry on high, or air-dry in direct sunlight. Meanwhile, wear a clean spare.

Still, if your mask has tears, holes, or is worn, sprung, or soiled beyond help, it's time to retire it.

Your Mask Has Seen Better Days

Maybe it's specially monogrammed. Or it's your favorite cat print. Still, if your mask has tears, holes, or is worn, sprung, or soiled beyond help, it's time to retire it. To make your masks last longer, don't let them get wet from saliva, sweat, makeup, or other stuff -- the fabric can get moldy if not washed ASAP. (Also, damp masks don't work as well.) Stash dirty or damp masks in a plastic bag until you can wash them.

It should cover your nose and mouth, with no big side gaps.

You Reuse Disposable Masks

Disposable masks are "one and done" deals. Make sure it fits right, just like a reusable one. It should cover your nose and mouth, with no big side gaps. The colored (usually blue) side should face out. Be sure to pack extras to go. When you've worn a disposable mask once, toss it safely into a trash can. If you take your mask off to eat, replace it with a fresh one when you've finished your meal.

If your mask's too big, don't crisscross the ear loops behind your head.

You Don't Tweak Your Mask to Fit

If your mask's too big, don't crisscross the ear loops behind your head. Instead, make a knot in each one to shorten it a bit. Put the knots behind your ears so the mask doesn't cinch and gap at the sides. If the loops are too short, extend them with string or a shoelace. If you wear a hijab, put the mask on over it and fasten the loops in back with a safety pin or paper clip. (This works if your mask puts pressure on your ears, too.)

Adding a filter to your mask does protect you better.

You Use a Coffee Filter

Sometimes, more is more. Adding a filter to your mask does protect you better. Look for filters rated PM (for "particulate matter") 2.5. The tight weave blocks tiny droplets and particles. A paper coffee filter's pores measure in at 20 micrometers -- too big for it to be an effective barrier. If your mask doesn't have a filter pocket, use one with more than one fabric layer or wear two masks.

It feels strange at first to talk with a mask on.

You Pull It From Your Face to Talk

It feels strange at first to talk with a mask on. So it can be a natural reflex to touch or tug at your mask to make sure you're heard. Others can understand you OK, though, if you wear your mask loosely enough to breathe freely and move your mouth and talk.

The reason you wear a mask is to make sure mucus and saliva don't escape from your nose and mouth and spread to someone else.

You Wear Your Mask Below Your Nose

The reason you wear a mask is to make sure mucus and saliva don't escape from your nose and mouth and spread to someone else. It also shields you from other people's droplets that might infect you. If your glasses fog up, make your own nosepiece to keep warm breath from escaping the top of your mask. Twist a few wire twist ties together. Cut a small slit at the top band of your mask, insert the twist ties, and mold to fit your nose.

Your mask should fit snugly over the whole lower half of your face and chin.

You Wear Your Mask Above Your Chin

Your mask should fit snugly over the whole lower half of your face and chin. When your chin's left uncovered, viruses can creep in and reach your mouth, nose, and eyes. They can also escape from your mouth and pass to others. It can also let your mask ride up on your face, which can fog your glasses or even block your vision.

To keep your face breakout- and rash-free, wash your face with a gentle cleanser.

You Don't Baby Your Face

To keep your face breakout- and rash-free, wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Follow up with moisturizer -- it adds an extra layer of protection. (If your skin is oily, use a gel.) Your dermatologist can help you choose a product with the best ingredients for your skin. For example, dimethicone can make a barrier that helps calm riled-up skin. And take a mask break every 4 hours for 15 minutes, when you can step away or outside.

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REFERENCES:

  • Johns Hopkins: “Coronavirus: How to Care for Your Face Mask,” “How to Properly Wear a Face Mask: Infographic,” “Coronavirus Face Masks & Protection FAQs.”
  • American Academy of Dermatology: “9 Ways To Prevent Face Mask Skin Problems.”
  • Hackensack Meridian Health: “5 Mask Mistakes People Make.”
  • CDC: “How to Store and Wash Masks,” “Considerations for Wearing Masks,” “Your Guide to Masks.”
  • Nebraska Medicine: “15 Mask Hacks to Make Your Mask Fit Better.”
  • Consumer Reports: “Your Most Pressing Questions About Masks, Answered by CR's Chief Scientist.”
  • University of Utah Health: “Face Mask Cover Guidelines.”
  • Cedars-Sinai: “COVID-19 Update: Should You Wear a Mask?”
  • NHS Oxford University Hospitals: “COVID-19 Staff FAQs: Wearing Face Masks In Our Hospitals.
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