The Dos and Don'ts Of Cleaning Masks

Apr 28, 2020

Credit Spokane COVID Response

Mask etiquette and hygiene have become conversation topics on Zoom and on the Internet as people wonder what’s the best way to keep their face wear clean.

A Spokane Fire Department deputy chief says there are definitely mask sanitizing no-nos. He showed a few of them to reporters on Tuesday.

Deputy Chief Jay Atwood says some of his colleagues have been testing remedies for cleaning masks that they’ve seen online. Some of those involve a kitchen appliance.

“You take your fabric mask in a microwave to try disinfect and sterilize the mask. So, over the course of the experiment, we took a variety of different sorts of fabric masks that you commonly see and put them in the microwave for three to four minutes," Atwood said.

He showed videos of a variety of the tests.  In some, the masks were enclosed in plastic bags. In all cases, the results were not pretty. Atwood offers commentary as he shows one video.

“Captain Peterson is taking the mask out of the microwave. You can see it’s totally engulfed in flame and this is what is left of that mask. We put it in a mask just to contain it, but you can see that there’s nothing left of that fabric mask after just three minutes," Atwood said.

So, microwaves are probably not the best tool for sterilizing a mask.

The best cleaning method for fabric masks, says county Health Officer Bob Lutz, is pretty simple.

“Ideally, you’re cleaning the mask on a daily basis," Lutz said. "Maybe you have a couple of these masks. When you clean them it should be done in, ideally, hot water and make sure it’s dried on as hot a temperature as you can because we know Covid viruses do not tolerate heat well.”

The Spokane Valley Fire Department recently bought a dozen machines that use ultraviolet rays to sterilize their equipment. But their masks are not N-95s or fabric. More first responding agencies are turning to that as a cost effective way that doesn’t involve difficult-to-find cleaning solutions.