A lot of us are facing daily challenges with wearing masks and cleaning them. Long gone are the days of traditional surgical and N95 masks. There are many options of hand sewn masks to choose from and each one is unique in style and fit. As cool as it is to rock stylish masks to reflect your mood it isn’t always fun and games inside the mask.
Wearing Masks on a Hot Day
We have finally entered the summer months. Many of us are looking forward to spending a day relaxing on a beach or simply getting our Vitamin D, while choosing veggies at the farmers’ market. Wearing a mask in these situations is important for protection but can cause problems.
If you’re not careful, heat build up can become dangerous. Wearing a mask decreases the amount of air that you take in with each breath. This is not a big deal when you’re casually walking or sitting. However, wearing a mask on a hot day and walking at a brisk pace increases your demand for oxygen. Wearing a mask can impede necessary airflow, making you feel dizzy or lightheaded. This effect is compounded in the summer heat.
If you find yourself out and active on a warm or hot day, take a minute to remove your mask, and inhale a deep breath of fresh air to cool off. Avoid wearing your mask for more than 4 hours without taking a break. Be sure that you are at least 6 feet away from anyone while doing this!
Masks and Breathability
All in all, we must find a balance between breathability and protection: a more breathable mask will help to keep your skin clear from potential “maskne” (stay tuned for the next post dedicated to this topic), but it will be less effective at blocking virus particles. An N95 offers a high degree of protection due to its tight fit and robust construction, but can be difficult to breathe through and damaging to your skin. On the flip side, a silk mask offers the highest degree of breathability, but less viral particles and water droplets are blocked.
There are 3 main mask types: Cotton/woven fabric masks, Surgical masks, and N95 masks. Choose your mask based on the situation and your personal risk tolerance. The most protective mask is a good choice for visiting a crowded supermarket or transporting a sick relative. A light, breathable mask is probably a better choice for walking the dog or taking a stroll along the beach.
People have been exploring all types of materials to prevent the COVID-19 aerosols from getting inside our masks. Particle tests have shown that certain industrial blue shop towels are capable of fortifying a home-sewn mask comparable to an N95. After purchasing a roll of the Scott shop towels, I have been placing a piece of the blue towel inside my masks and cutting it to fit. This approach captures sweat and debris, yet my skin never soils the outer mask. Recently, I read that the highest-rated blue shop towel brands are Zep’s and ToolBox.
Combining two different materials can create a comfortable, yet effective mask. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that combining silk with a high thread count cotton creates a mask that is more effective at stopping virus particles. You can create this at home by using a silk handkerchief to form the inner layer and a 600+ thread count pillowcase for the outer layer.
How to Clean Your Face Mask
How to clean your face mask depends on the type of mask you have. Cotton/woven fabric masks are easy to wash after each use. I recommend using warm soapy water along with a few drops of white vinegar for an extra cleaning boost. White vinegar also softens fabric, so there’s no scratchy feeling when wearing the mask. Surprisingly, the vinegar doesn’t leave any aroma behind and, in fact, it leaves laundry smelling fresh and clean. You may also consider adding Lysol Laundry Sanitizer if you’re washing items that are too delicate for hot water and bleach.
Under normal circumstances we would consider surgical masks and N95’s as a one-time use. Surgical masks are the most delicate type of masks; these should be replaced readily after any sign of wear. If your surgical mask develops a small tear or has a musky odor, it is time to throw it out. However, while supplies have been limited, people have been forced to reuse these types of masks. So, there are a couple options for you to explore when cleaning your N95’s and cloth masks.
Extra Steps to Sanitize Your Mask
Taking extra steps to sanitize your masks regularly is an important way to keep them working effectively and safe from virus particles. Wearing a contaminated mask repeatedly can put you at risk for becoming sick. There are three approaches to sanitizing masks: using chemicals such as alcohol or bleach, heat treatment and UV light.
Let’s start off by addressing alcohol and bleach; do not use this option for your N95 mask because it will damage the filter, making it hard to breathe through. Heat treatment is the best option for cloth and N95’s (not the surgical mask). You can sanitize your masks at home, by heating your oven to 185 degrees F and then carefully placing the masks inside for 20 minutes. Dry heat is very effective at killing coronavirus particles.
UVC Light Sanitation
UV light sanitation is another effective way to clean your mask of virus particles. UV sterilizers use UVC to destroy viruses and bacteria. Use caution when using this for an N95 mask because it will cause them to degrade faster (can destroy the rubber seal). However, this should not be a problem with more durable homemade masks.
One caveat with UVC is that you must trust the manufacturer that it actually works. Unless you make an effort to scientifically test the product by growing bacteria on a petri dish, you cannot truly see if the product is effectively killing bacteria!
Nevertheless, if you decide to go with this option, here are some tips to help you make the right decision:
- Know the power: professional grade UVC sterilizers clearly advertise their intensity, typically in units of μW/cm².
- For example, a 7.5 watt light can provide 800 of μW/cm² of intensity on 1 square foot from 12 inches away.
- UV dose = Intensity x Exposure Time. Here is the math: 10 seconds of a 800 μW/cm² provides a UV dose of 8000. This is good enough to kill most bacteria.
On average 10 to 20 seconds will destroy most germs; be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for specific guidance. Note that UVB is much less effective than UVC. So leaving your mask out in the sun won’t kill as well since there’s not much UVC in regular sunlight.
Check out my next Freckle post which is all about how to deal with mask-acne, otherwise known as maskne. Plus, I opened a funny little online store called The Pun Shop by Shelley where you can purchase face masks and t-shirts to give some comic relief during the pandemic.