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Updated: 15 Sep 2021

Face mask using guide: how to wear, store and wash your face covering properly

Important tips for wearing and washing your face covering correctly to protect both yourself and others
Anna Studman

If you’re going to use a face mask or covering, it’s crucial to take care to use, remove and wash it properly, to keep both yourself and others protected.

Touching the front of the mask, leaving it lying around or not washing / replacing it enough could potentially increase the risk of infection to yourself and others, as well as making it more likely you'll develop 'maskne' - outbreaks of spots related to mask-wearing.

Here's how to keep things clean and avoid any issues:

How to use a face covering properly

Putting the mask on

You should always wash or sanitise your hands before putting on a mask. If you're out and about, it's best to keep sanitiser with you so that you can safely remove your mask and put it on again if needed.

Use the ear loops when putting on or removing and avoid touching the front as much as possible. 

Ensure a good fit

  • Make sure the mask covers your mouth and nose, and fits snugly without any gaps. A mouldable nose wire or bridge can help with this.
  • The mask should fit from the top of your nose to under the chin and cover past the edges of your mouth on either side.
  • It should fit comfortably but securely when in use and with normal head movements (this is important so you don’t have to adjust the mask during use).
  • If you have a beard, this will limit how close a fit you can get.

During use

  • Avoid touching or adjusting the mask as much as possible while using it, and sanitise your hands before and after if you really need to.
  • Do not pull the mask down below your chin and back up while wearing it as this can transfer virus particles to your mouth and nose.

Removing your mask

  • Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it's damp.
  • To remove the mask, remove it from behind (don’t touch the front of your face).
  • After taking your mask off, store it somewhere safe, such as in a reusable cloth or plastic bag, until you are able to wash it (or bin it, if it's disposable). Don't leave it lying around on surfaces or in your bag or pocket.
  • If your mask has a disposable filter, you should remove and bin this before washing your mask.
  • Wash your hands afterwards.

Disposable masks should be binned after a single use. This is why they can end up being an expensive option and create waste. You can now drop them off in recycling bins at some Wilko stores though.

Find out more in our guide to disposable vs reusable masks.

Face masks and glasses: how to prevent steamy specs

If you wear glasses, you may have issues with them steaming up when you wear a face mask. If this happens:

  • Try and adjust the fit so it's tighter across your nose. A mask with a nose wire or mouldable bridge may help.
  • Raise the height of the mask so the weight of your glasses helps to hold it flush to your face (remember to clean your glasses too if you've done this).
  • Try dipping your glasses in soapy water and letting them dry. This can help to prevent fog forming, although won't work on all glasses types as some have a special lens coating and could damage the coating - so make sure you check this first.
  • Folding a tissue and placing it under the nose bridge can also help to prevent upward air flow, although it's a bit of a faff.

Find out which reusable face coverings came out best for people who wear glasses in our face mask tests.

Preventing 'maskne'

Some people have reported problems with 'maskne' - outbreaks of spots or acne caused by the humidity and moisture created on the skin from wearing a mask.

A dermatologist we spoke to recommends that people:

  • Cleanse skin properly using a gentle cleanser and moisturiser during the day
  • Use a night cream in the evening to protect the skin, so that any friction from a mask or face covering is rubbing up against a well moisturised and healthy skin barrier and is less likely to cause irritation. 

While it may be more difficult on long journeys, it’s important when you can to (safely) remove your mask and allow your skin to breathe and to prevent sweat sebum secretion and retention behind the mask.

If you have sensitive skin, you might want to avoid wearing make-up while you’re out as this can contribute to clogged pores and breakouts. 

Watch our video below for more on how to look after your skin while using a face covering.

How to wash a face mask

To wash a reusable face covering, ideally you should machine wash on a hot wash (about 60°C), but you can put it in the washing machine in a normal wash. 

Mask manufacturers should also give some basic washing instructions and there may be some specific requirements based on what material is used, so check this when you buy.

If you've got a mask with a special antimicrobial coating such as silver or copper, you'll probably have to wash this in a different way to avoid damaging the coating: make sure to check the manufacturer's instructions. 

What about hand washing?

Some experts say you can hand wash your face covering with laundry detergent, but there is some disagreement about whether this is enough. 

Detergent can kill COVID-19, but this may not be the only thing lurking on your mask, and a quick dip and dash is unlikely to be sufficient.

However, it also depends on your circumstances. If you're wearing your mask for prolonged periods of time in enclosed spaces or high risk areas, you should exercise more caution. 

If you do hand wash your mask, make sure you use hot water and scrub thoroughly - for at least 20 seconds.

It's worth having a few masks on the go so that you can wear a fresh one while another is being washed and not worry about being caught short.

Once washed, make sure your mask is fully dry before using it again, as residual moisture can affect its effectiveness.

How often do you need to wash a face mask?

Washing machine advice lifestyle 3 483367

Face coverings need to be washed after each use, which for most people just heading to the shops or taking short trips on public transport should translate to washing it after a day's wear.

You should change your face mask, though, as soon as it gets damp or after a few hours of continued use. 

There's a risk that face masks could become contaminated after wearing, so you should store used ones in a separate bag or container until you're able to wash them. 

For more advice, see our guide on how to wash clothes to kill germs.