You have your new mask wardrobe – a mask to match your outfits and your mood. But how often should these masks be cleaned and what is the best way to ensure they are clean? And how often should you clean them?

Researchers don’t know exactly how long the virus that causes COVID-19 stays on mask fabric, but a study published in April found that the virus was still detectable on the outside of a surgical mask 7 days after exposure. Since we don’t know for sure, experts say that you should wash your mask after each use. And if you’re wearing a mask that becomes moist because of exercise or exertion, swap it out for a clean one as soon as possible.

Check Your Fabric

The way you wash your masks depends on the material used. The most popular hand-made cloth masks are made with 100% cotton. These can be washed with your regular laundry, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just be sure to use the hottest water that is appropriate for the fabric. Here’s a tip: If you don’t like the masks getting caught up in the rest of your laundry as they go through the washer and dryer, put them in a lingerie bag to keep them all together.

Some people like scented detergents for their laundry, but having the masks right against your face may make the scent overwhelming. If this is the case, perhaps it’s best to switch to an unscented product for now.

If your masks have filters, check to see if they are disposable or washable – most are disposable.

Washing by Hand

The CDC and Johns Hopkins Medicine offer 2 options for hand washing masks, if this is what you prefer. The CDC recommends using a bleach product suitable to the fabric. Their cleaner recipe is 5 tablespoons of bleach product for every gallon of room temperature water. If you want to make a smaller amount of the cleaner, you can use 4 teaspoons per quart of water.

Once your cleaner is ready, soak your masks for about 5 minutes and then rinse them thoroughly in cool or room temperature water. Allow to dry thoroughly before wearing them again. The CDC also suggests that if you don’t use a dryer and are hang drying the masks, if you can, allow the masks to dry in direct sunlight.

Johns Hopkins says that you can also hand wash the masks in a sink or tub with hot soapy water, scrubbing them for at least 20 seconds and then drying them in the dryer.

Clear Masks

People with hearing impairments are having a particularly tough time with masks. For those with residual hearing, they may not be able to make out what a masked person is saying. For others who lip read or depend on facial expressions to understand, the masks hide this. For this reason, clear masks – those with clear panels that show the lips – are becoming increasingly popular.

If you buy a clear mask, check with the manufacturer about how best to clean it, including the plastic panel. If you don’t have instructions, you can still wash the masks by hand and then wipe down the plastic part with a cleaning solution.

Keeping Masks Clean While Out

While you’re out and about, you may want to take your mask off if you’re in a place that doesn’t require it. The best way to protect yourself and is by having dedicated bags for each mask – not shoving it in a pocket or your backpack. After taking your mask off by the ties or elastics, fold the mask with the inside of the mask facing out, and place in a clean plastic or paper bag. Avoid touching the fabric as much as possible. And don’t forget to wash your hands after handling it. When you need to use the mask again, take it out by the ties or elastics and then be sure to wash your hands after you’ve put it on.