A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

3 things to know about cloth masks

Editor’s note: This article was published on April 28, 2020. COVID-19 information and recommendations are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or view our most recent COVID-19 blog posts.

Cloth masks have become a new fashion statement in 2020, as more and more people are creating homemade masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But, the benefit is not just uniquely-designed masks.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a cloth mask in public when around people outside of their household, especially where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain like grocery stores, clinics and pharmacies.

Cloth Face Masks - Do they work?

CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask covering when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

Benefits of a cloth mask

CDC advises the use of simple cloth face coverings, like a cloth mask, to help stop transmission of the virus by people who may have the virus and may not know it. Covering your nose and mouth keeps your germs to yourself. Because symptoms of COVID-19 may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, according to CDC, wearing a cloth mask is a way to prevent the spread.   

Wearing a cloth mask doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick because viruses can be transmitted through your eyes or by tiny viral particles. However, cloth masks are effective at capturing respiratory droplets, which is the main transmission route of COVID-19.

Cloth masks are more effective when you practice social distancing. If you are not feeling well or have symptoms of COVID-19, use Marshfield Clinic Health System online screening tool to check your symptoms before visiting a doctor’s office, urgent care or emergency department.

Wearing your cloth mask

Keep in mind that cloth masks or face coverings are not N95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must be reserved for health care workers, as recommended by CDC. Disposable facemasks are now readily available as another option for protection.

Additionally, cloth masks should not be placed on children under age 2, or on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

When wearing a cloth mask, it should be placed over your nose and mouth. You also should remember to:

  • Cover your mouth with a tissue if you cough or sneeze, even when wearing a mask.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water if you touch the outside of your mask.
  • Fold your mask to avoid touching the outside when you take it off.
  • Store in a paper bag so it can dry out and not contaminate other surfaces.
  • Wash your mask as often as you can.

Cleaning your cloth mask

Masks should be washed after each use, Its important to remove your mask correctly, and wash your hands after handling or touching used masks.

Masks can be cleaned either by a washing machine or by hand.

You can even include your masks with your regular laundry. Use regular detergent if using a machine and the warmest appropriate water setting for the material used in the mask.

If washing by hand, you can prepare a bleach solution by mixing 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) of household bleach per gallon of room temperature water. Be sure to verify that your bleach is intended for disinfection — some products that are safe for colored clothing may not be suitable for disinfection of masks. Soak the mask for 5 minutes in the diluted bleach solution, and rinse thoroughly with cool or room temperate water.

Be sure to completely dry your mask after washing. To dry masks, they can be placed in the dryer on the highest heat setting until completely dry, OR can be laid flat and allowed to air dry, if possible place the mask in direct sunlight.

Cloth masks should be thrown away if they are damaged or hard to breathe through.

Cloth masks are not considered biohazardous waste, so these can be washed in a normal washing machine or thrown away in a normal garbage can. In order for an infectious material to be considered biohazardous waste, it must be pourable, drippable, squeezable or flakeable.

Disposable facemasks are different than cloth masks. For more information, click here.

Masking guidelines

Download the handy chart below to make sure you follow the Do’s and Don’ts of wearing a mask.

Download PDF

Visiting a Marshfield Clinic Health System facility

Patients and visitors are required to wear a mask when in one of our facilities. If you have a mask, please wear it to your appointment. If you do not have a mask, you will be given one at the entrance.

Learn more about how we are keeping patients safe by clicking here.

Additional Resources

Effectiveness of Cloth Masks for Protection Against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2

COVID-19 masks: The truth about oxygen and CO2

Glasses and masks: Tips for wearing both and being comfortable

Hearing aids and masks: Maintain your hearing and health


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