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Face masks: Why to wear them, how to clean them

Illustration collage of people wearing masks

Updated May 26, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to infect greater numbers across the United States, the Center for Disease Control recommends that everyone wear a face mask in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Here, VCU Health infectious disease expert Richard Wenzel, M.D., chair emeritus and professor of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, talks about why masks are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

Why should you wear a face mask or covering in public?

Due to the rapid spread and easy transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19), I suggest the universal use of a mask whenever you are in public, in addition to strict hand washing, staying at least 6 feet from anyone else and disinfecting any commonly touched surface.

What should you do if you don't have a face mask?

If you don't have a manufactured face mask, you can use a homemade mask or another type of face covering, like a bandana or scarf. Recognizing the shortage of masks across the country, manufactured surgical masks and N95 masks should be reserved for health care workers. If you would like to make a mask, here are the instructions. We recommend you use 65% polyester and 35% cotton cloth material.

How should you clean your mask?

Since masks are made for one-time use, no one knows how best to disinfect them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you wash cloth masks after each use. You can use your standard washer and dryer using the warmest setting possible for the material. Hand washing with a bleach solution also works. The CDC provides details on how to clean your face mask

What do you want people to know about staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s OK to be extra cautious during this time. The precautionary steps you take, like wearing masks, washing your hands and disinfecting surfaces, can help prevent an infection.

For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping patients safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

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