When Should I Throw Away My Mask? Plus Great Mask Tips and Tricks

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Some clothing items are optional but for now, in the age of COVID, a mask is a must! So, now that I am used to the mask mandate, I keep asking myself, “When should I throw my mask away and get a new one?”

I’ve been known to go commando from time to time when I have opened my underwear drawer to find that I am fresh out of panties. Instead of walking down two flights of stairs to the laundry room, I slipped on my jeans and went commando for the day. I also love it when I “forget” to put my bra on and run around all day bundled in my down coat with no bra on underneath! For now, though, a mask is a must. And masks aren’t good forever- did you know that? 

woman wearing a maskFirst, I got organized at home around the masks that seemed to proliferate like rabbits once the mask mandates began.

This is what I am doing to get my masks organized:

  1. I installed a nice open basket by the door where we keep the clean masks that we can grab when we leave the house. (I also have clean masks in my coat pockets, my pant pockets, in my car cup holder – you name it!)basket of masks
  2. I polled my family about what style of mask they prefer. We’ve determined that my son likes the gaiter* style that he can wear as a neck warmer and then pull up over his nose and mouth. My daughter likes the mask with a seam that runs down the middle and the ones that have the nose bendy-thing-a-ma-jig. My husband wears disposable masks, and me? I prefer the accordion-shaped mask which gives me room to breathe when I am hyperventilating in the grocery store! (*Researching this blog post has educated me! My son and I need to revisit his one-layer polyester gaiters, because apparently, they are not the safest option for him!)mother child mask
  3. If you have family members that prefer the same style of mask, be sure to buy them in different colors and patterns so that everyone can quickly differentiate them when sorting laundry. I have found myself accidentally wearing a child-size mask and, well, let’s just say, I’m barely covered…
  4. Mommas, I have two words for you: “mesh bag” in order to keep track of those pesky masks that are now all over your house. When you wash your masks, put them all in one mesh bag so they don’t get stuck to your underwear or get hidden in the corners of your fitted sheets when you pull the laundry out of the dryer. The CDC has more specifics on how to wash cloth face coverings.mesh laundry bag for masks
  5. In the glove compartment of your car (or why don’t we rename it “the mask compartment” since no one actually uses the glove compartment for gloves anymore?) try storing a stash of clean masks for those moments when you find yourself out and about without a mask. I buy disposable masks (5 per pack) for my kids and I store them in the car, just in case of emergency.
  6. Keep some masks in a clean plastic bag in your purse, fanny pack, and backpack too. How many times have you gotten out of the car, walked halfway to the store or the school, and then had to walk back to the car because you are like, “Whoops, I forgot my mask!”? Well, if you carry a purse or a backpack, make sure to keep a little plastic baggy with a couple of extra masks on standby so you don’t have to look like a silly goose determinedly walking to the store, stopping abruptly when you see everyone wearing masks and then bowing your head and turning quickly back around to jog back to your car.

With all these masks, I keep asking myself, “When should I throw my mask away?” How long does the mask protect me?

The folks at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) talk about the fit, fabric, and thickness of the material of your mask. This article says that:

“When it comes to fabric, the tightness of the weave is crucial. At a bare minimum, you want the weave to be tight enough that you don’t see the outline of the individual fibers when you hold the material up to the light. But tighter is better. A study comparing the aerosol filtration efficiencies of a number of different fabrics found that a high-thread-count (600 TPI) cotton fabric far outperformed a moderate-thread-count (80 TPI) quilter’s cotton for particles of all sizes.”

This article goes on to say that, “As far as fabric type, filtering experiments show tightly woven 100% cotton outperforming most synthetics. This may be because synthetic fibers are relatively smooth at the microscopic level, while cotton fibers have a somewhat three-dimensional structure that likely creates additional barriers to both outgoing and incoming particles.” 

Again, there are a lot of guidelines on how to wear masks but I was unable to find much information related to when should I throw away my mask. But it stands to reason that since fabric breaks down, masks become less effective over time.

So, I am taking this into my own hands… 

The trusted Good Housekeeping magazine says that the typical lifespan of bed linens is 2-3 years when washing them once a week. If you and your family are reusing 2 to 3 cotton masks per family member and those masks are each being washed twice a week, then I think a good rule of thumb would be to chuck your cotton masks right about now. Which is about every 6-10 months of regular use. We are ten months into this pandemic and still several months for our age groups and our kids from receiving the vaccine.

If you’ve been wearing the same cotton masks for 10 months, I suggest that now is a great time to throw away your old masks and get some new ones.

Of course, masks will only wear out depending on how often you are washing and wearing them, the quality and thickness of the cloth, and your level of comfort.

mother mask childThe Vermont Emergency Management Agency has a list of local businesses that carry masks. Regardless of where you purchase your mask, or if your Aunt Becky made your favorite mask- just wear your mask and look at the fabric, the fit, and the thickness of the mask too.

Additional resources for the best ways to wear and care for your masks can be found here:

*The Vermont Department of Health’s Q&A on masks notes that “Generally, we recommend face masks and coverings that are made of at least two layers. Materials with tighter weaves, like cotton T-shirt material, are better at trapping respiratory droplets and preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus than materials with loose weaves, like gaiters. If you choose to wear a gaiter as a face covering, fold it over so it is at least two layers thick. Based on a few experiments in adults, gaiters with one layer trap the least amount of respiratory droplets. Gaiters with two layers trap more droplets than gaiters with one layer. Gaiters folded over into two layers have similar effectiveness at trapping respiratory droplets as two layers of cotton T-shirt material.”

When Should I Throw Away My Mask? And other common Questions about Masks

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Karen grew up in the hills of Northeast Tennessee in the heart of Appalachia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology, a Masters of Public Health in Community Health and she is a trained massage therapist. Her public health career was spent working for universities, the federal government, and the Vermont state government. To keep it interesting (and flexible), she is now working as an office manager for a friend’s company and provides public health consulting and grant writing on the side. Karen enjoys writing personal essays, poetry, and blog posts for Vermont Mom. She and her husband have a son and daughter who keep them VERY busy. In her spare time, she enjoys quilting, sleeping, and catching up with friends on Zoom.

1 COMMENT

  1. Cotton fibers develop in a ball across the cotton seeds. Those bolls want to be harvested through a spindle picker or it’s far first-class to handpick them. The use of cotton for cloth is an idea up to now to prehistoric times; fragments of cotton material dated to the 5th millennium BC were placed withinside the Indus Valley Civilization, in addition to material remnants dated decrease returned to 6000 BC in Peru. Although cultivated because of the reality of antiquity, Cotton fibers grow around the cottonseed.

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