Cloth Masks Aren’t Everlasting: Learn When to Replace Them

Cloth face masks have many important benefits: they’re kinder to the environment, more cost-effective than disposable face masks, and convenient. But they, too, are unfortunately not everlasting. Knowing when it’s time to replace a cloth mask is quite important, as an old face mask is less effective at protecting you from germs. These are the 5 main signs that tell you it’s time to replace a cloth face mask.

1. The elastic ear loops are stretched out

When to Replace Cloth Masks woman wearing face mask
The elastic ear loops are usually the first part of a face mask to be stretched out and misshapen. This may seem like it’s not a big deal, but in reality, it may really be rendering your mask useless, as a face mask is only effective at filtering out germs when it hugs the face closely and all the air you inhale or exhale passes through the fabric. When the elastic loops are stretched out, the mask may become too loose on the sides, and as a result, air will escape and enter through the sides of the mask.
As Hannah Yokoji, director of The Laundress, told HuffPost, “If these ties become loose or stretched, you need to stop using it straight away because if the mask isn’t fitted properly to your face, you could be putting yourself and others in danger of COVID-19.” If the mask is really new and the loops became stretched out after you put the mask in the dryer, for example, an alternative you could try is shortening those loops by trying them in a knot in a pre-measured place. We mentioned several other tricks that will make your face mask fit better and be more comfortable in the article titled 9 Useful Face Mask Hacks Everyone Must Know.

2. The fabric is wearing thin

When to Replace Cloth Masks thin mask
It’s not only the elastics that are susceptible to wear and tear. The fabric itself is also becoming less tightly-knit and dense over time, especially if you’re washing your cloth face mask often, which you absolutely should do. To see if your cloth mask has started to wear thin and needs replacing, hold up the mask against light and see if there are any sparse spots or visible fading that are more see-through than the rest of the fabric. If so, then it’s definitely time to replace that mask.

3. The mask doesn’t fit closely anymore

When to Replace Cloth Masks boy wearing face mask
Different fabrics react differently to washing and drying, and over time, some fabrics tend to become more stretched out and misshapen than others. If you notice that a face mask has lost its shape the last time you’ve washed it and doesn’t fit as well around the nose, the chin, or the sides, it’s best to get rid of the mask.
After all, the last thing you’d want is to go through all the trouble of wearing a face mask only to find out that it’s completely ineffective. For more tips on how to make a face mask fit better, read our article 6 Practical Tips to Make Face Masks More Comfortable.

4. It has holes and stains

When to Replace Cloth Masks white mask blue background
We might be stating the obvious here, but a face mask that has apparent holes and loose seams should be discarded, and the novel coronavirus will be able to pass through those gaps and holes with ease. It’s also wise to replace a mask with stains from coffee or makeup that do not go away after a wash. “A stained mask has probably been overused and needs replacing,” said physician Leann Poston in a statement to HuffPost

5. You’ve washed them over 30 times

When to Replace Cloth Masks washing face mask
If you were searching for a specific time limit after which you should definitely throw away the mask, 30 washes is a good benchmark according to health experts. Thorough washing damages the fibers of the face mask and makes it easier for the virus to travel through the face mask. Even if your mask is made out of high-quality fabric, it’s not going to be effective enough to protect you from the virus after dozens of washes, so make sure to replace it on a regular basis.
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