Do you have face masks stashed everywhere? In the center console of your car, in your handbags, in your jacket pockets? Hold up! It's great to have masks readily available (good on you for being responsible), but you may need to reconsider how you're storing them, in order to ensure you're mitigating the spread of bacteria and viral particles.
Whether your mask is clean or dirty, you don't want it rubbing up against other surfaces you touch frequently. "Don't store it in your purse or loosely in your car, for example, because it can cause cross-contamination," Kristin Dean, MD, a family medicine physician and medical director of Doctor On Demand, told POPSUGAR.
If you want to keep a mask in these spots, placing it inside a paper bag is your safest bet. "The best, most sanitary storage for our masks is in a cool, dry, breathable place that avoids contact with other surfaces. You can store it in a paper lunch bag, [which is] breathable for the mask," said Natasha Bhuyan, MD, family physician and West Regional Medical Director at One Medical. This aligns with guidance issued to healthcare workers, in which the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommended either hanging up medical-grade masks or storing them in a "clean, breathable container such as a paper bag." Dr. Bhuyan explained that the breathability of the bag "helps avoid any mildew growth."
Where Should I Keep My Masks at Home?
If you want your masks to be more accessible, you might consider designating a key hook or some wall hooks next to your front door. "Many people find it's easiest to hang their mask from a hook to avoid the mask touching other surfaces," Dr. Bhuyan told POPSUGAR. Plus, you'll be less likely to forget your mask if you have to pass it on your way out.
Of course, if a mask has already been worn, you should either toss it if it's disposable, or try to wash it immediately if it's made with reusable fabric. "Remember, the outside of your mask is considered to be 'dirty,'" Dr. Bhuyan said. "We should wash our masks after each usage. That includes if you are wearing your masks for a few hours or an entire day."
Keeping Your Mask as Sterile as Possible While You Wear It
Mask care isn't just limited to frequent cleanings or sanitary storage — how you wear it and hold it throughout the day matters, too. "You should wash your hands before putting on a face mask, if you touch the mask while wearing it, and after you take off a used mask," Dr. Dean explained. Avoid touching the fabric, face-covering portion of the mask altogether; instead, "use the ear loops to put on and remove the mask," she said.
In addition, Dr. Dean said not to "store" the mask on your forehead or chin. "Please remember, if your mask is not covering your mouth and nose at all times, you are not wearing the mask correctly," Dr. Dean said. "Wearing a mask the wrong way is not effective in reducing the transmission of COVID-19. As a reminder, it is not recommended to pull your mask down to talk with people. This can put others at risk."
Sandra Kesh, MD, deputy medical director and infectious disease specialist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, NY, noted that wearing your mask improperly can also put you at risk. "Don't pull your mask below your chin while you're wearing it," Dr. Kesh told POPSUGAR. "Leaving the mask dangling or improperly fitted to your face creates opportunities for cross-contamination."
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.