A vaccine is on its way, but we still have a long winter ahead battling the coronavirus, which means continuing to mask up. But now that we’re months into the pandemic, is it time to toss some of your most frequently worn cloth masks and replace them with new ones? Possibly, say medical experts.
“All masks can lose effectiveness over time,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician affiliated with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group in San Diego, California.
Here are five signs that it’s time to trade out your mask for a new one:
It’s Been Through Several Wash Cycles
If you don’t wash your reusable fabric mask daily and after every use, this can lead to a build-up of dirt debris on the mask which can make it less effective, Olulade says.
According to guidance from the World Health Organization, people should wash fabric masks with soap and hot water that’s at least 60 degrees at least once a day.
“A mask that has been washed repeatedly over time may also lose its effectiveness but more research is needed to quantify how long you should keep reusing a cloth mask,” Olulade says.
As a general rule, though, she says that if your mask begins to break down after several washes and becomes thinner and more worn, then you should err on the side of caution and change it.
There Are Holes Or It’s Frayed
The crossing of the fibers in your mask trap droplets so if there are any holes or wearing of the cloth, it will become less effective and needs to be replaced immediately, says Dr. Jay Woody, M.D., chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and a co-founder of Legacy ER & Urgent Care.
The Loops Lose Elasticity
You want your mask to fit snugly and stay close to your face, covering your nose and mouth. If the ear loops are stretched out of shape and do not hold the mask on correctly, you should replace the mask, says Dr. Leann Poston, M.D., a licensed physician and a contributor to InvigorMedical.com. This can happen when the mask is dried under high heat, she notes.
The Mask Isn’t Fitting Properly
In addition to losing elasticity, masks can stretch out of shape or shrink and no longer fit your face, Poston says. If your mask isn’t securely covering your nose and mouth, toss it.
The Mask Is Dirty
From makeup to food stains, if your mask is visibly soiled and washing doesn’t take out the stain, it’s time to replace your mask, Poston says. Not only is it not a good look, but it could also signal that the mask has been overused.