No matter where you stand on wearing face coverings to combat the spread of COVID-19, we can all agree on this: Don’t wear the same socks or underwear day after day.
That advice also pertains to masks, which health experts urge to be replaced or washed regularly.
The exact timeline of when you need to replace a mask depends on the makeup of the mask, along with other factors such as how much you’re washing it and how often you’re taking it on and off. If you have a disposable face mask, the CDC advises throwing it away after you’ve worn it once.
With other masks, as a general rule of thumb: “Think about masks like seasonal attire. Update every season,” Krys Johnson, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Temple University, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises using masks that have at least two layers of tightly woven, washable, breathable fabric, such as cotton. When you wash your masks regularly, the fabric, as well as the fit, can begin to deteriorate. As this happens, your masks become less effective.
So how do you know when it’s time to replace a mask?
If your mask is ripped, it needs to go — no matter how small or large the hole is.
A snug fit is key. If the elastic of your ear loops starts to loosen, it’s time to reach for something tighter. A mask is designed to cover your nose and mouth. If one of the straps falls off and you have to keep touching your mask to keep it in place, this defeats its purpose.
In this part of the country, we’re well aware of how easy it is to sweat through a face covering in cold winter weather — whether it be after shoveling or being outside in the wind for an extended period of time. The same also applies to face masks in the COVID-19 era.
With that being the case, experts strongly recommend owning more than one mask, and they advise swapping a wet mask for a dry one. A wet mask can make it harder to breathe. And, of course it’s uncomfortable, especially if you’re walking back outside into cold temps.
When in doubt, replace it. We want to eliminate risk as much as possible right now, and proper mask wearing is part of that.