Mask Wearing 101:
How to select, wear and clean your mask
There are always fashion trends. Baggy jeans, big hair, and leggings all had their time in the fashion spotlight. Little did we know that 2020 would thrust masks into popularity. While we know there are many fashionable masks available on the market, it's very important to understand their function from an infection control perspective.
Face masks are used to protect others and reduce germs that can be spread from the mouth, nose, and face, helping to reduce the spread of disease through aerosolized particles. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), face masks are recommended to be worn by all people in public settings or when near other people. Also, at Firelands, we require masking at our locations in our safety policy.
There are many options to choose from when selecting a mask and a properly fitting mask is important for both comfort and safety. Choose a mask that has two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric, completely covers your nose and mouth, and fits snugly against the sides of your face. Those who wear glasses can select a mask that fits closely over the nose or one that has a nose wire to help eliminate fogging. If possible, select a child-sized mask or adjustable mask for younger mask wearers.
Wearing your mask properly is crucial for it to be effective. Be sure to wash your hands before putting on a mask and try not to touch the mask while wearing it. Pull the mask up over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin. The mask should fit snugly against the sides of your face for it to be the most effective.
There are multiple studies on the effectiveness of face masks in reducing bacterial contamination produced by germs from our upper airways. What these studies reveal is that bacterial counts on the surfaces of masks can increase the longer you wear them. So while masks are designed to help prevent the spread of germs, it’s important to remember certain precautions to follow to prevent contamination of the mask you are wearing such as:
Always change your mask as soon as it becomes damp or wet from respiration or gets soiled. Wash or sanitize your hands every time before you remove or touch your mask. Carefully remove your mask by grasping the ear loops or untying the ties to avoid touching the mask itself. Clean your hands again.
If wearing a fabric or cloth mask, launder it after each use in your regular laundry using hot water. It is best to have multiple masks so you can wash them between uses. After laundering your fabric mask, you can let it air dry to keep its shape. You can also hand wash fabric masks, using hot, soapy water. Wash the mask for at least 20 seconds, rinse, and allow to air dry. Store clean masks in a clean place when you are not using them.
Disposable masks that are not soiled or moist should be stored in a breathable paper bag, once removed. Plastic bags are not recommended as they can retain moisture.
Information supplied by Susan J. Cramer, BSN, RN, CIC, Director of Infection Control & Patient Safety at Firelands Regional Health System.