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After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended wearing cloth face coverings to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, many retailers began to make their own face masks. Most recently, the CDC has announced that face masks also protect the wearer, and more states and cities are issuing mask mandates as COVID-19 cases begin to rise again.
While you’re supposed to wash your cloth face mask after every use, the wear and tear from daily use on these masks has many people wondering whether or not they should just replace them.
“Since the basic principle of masks works by blocking the distance droplets travel, cloth masks will become less effective the more they get washed as they become more threadbare,” says Jon Chan, the Lab Manager of Testing at Reviewed.
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Should you replace your cloth face mask?
To know when you should replace your face mask, Christopher Sulmonte, the project administrator for the Biocontainment Unit at John Hopkins Medical, explains you should think of them like a pair of underwear.
“Obviously the single cleaning aspect is important, but the other piece is that if it starts to tatter or there are holes, it might be time to replace it,” he says. “We want the material to minimize those aerosolized droplets that come out of your mouth.”
While there’s no exact timeline for how long before a cloth mask will need to be replaced, Chan explains that the quality of the mask and the harshness of your washing machine are the main factors in deterioration.
Sulmonte also recommends having several face masks, especially if you’re going out every day or tend to sweat more, as moisture can impact the integrity of the mask. This way, you won’t need to do laundry as frequently.
To see if your mask needs to be replaced, Sulmonte says to hold the mask up to a light and check for any visible fading or see-through spots.
According to Chan, in colder weather, you can check if your mask is still effective by going outside and seeing how far your breath travels through your mask. If it’s further than an inch or so, that’s a good sign it’s time to replace it.
What are the best face masks you can buy?
One way to ensure you won’t have to replace your cloth masks too frequently is to purchase high quality ones with several layers of fabric. Our experts at Reviewed tested the most popular face masks to determine which ones offer the best protection and comfort based on fabric, fit, effectiveness, quality, and the overall experience of wearing the mask.
Our tester found that the Athleta Non Medical Face Masks are the best. For $30, you get a pack of five face masks that are ultra comfortable and breathable, as well as protective. The masks are triple-layered and come with adjustable nose pieces and ear loops. Each set comes in different color/pattern options as well, to best match your style.
For a more affordable option, the Old Navy Triple-Layer Cloth Face Mask was our runner up in testing and our best value pick for masks. Like Athleta, Old Navy’s masks come in a five-pack, but at a much lower price—just $12.50. These masks also offer three layers of fabric for protection, have adjustable ear straps, and are made of soft cotton that won’t irritate your face. Not to mention, they’re available in a plethora of fun patterns, including seasonal ones.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
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