Different studies related to COVID-19 and its after-effects are finally coming to light. They are all pointing towards the long-term implications of the pandemic. In fact, a recent study reveals that face masks worn for prolonged periods must be washed often, iterating the importance of keeping your washable face mask clean.
This is due to the fact that they contain microbes from our skin and respiratory droplets.
A recent experiment by testing laboratory Eurofins, shows that bacteria, yeast, and mould are some of the elements found in a face mask. Especially, one that you may wear for a long period. The experiment included disposable and washable face masks that were worn for six hours and 12 hours for the comparison study.
The face masks were then tested for the total bacterial count, yeast and mould, along with Staphylococcus aureus. (The latter is linked to skin infections and can cause rashes.)
The results from the experiment showed high levels of yeast and mould, as well as bacterial counts on the masks that were worn for 12 hours. There were no strains of S. aureus and P. aeruginosa bacteria present though.
These Is More Bacteria In A Washable Face Mask
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The study also found that a washable face mask generally contains more microbes than the disposable one. But, it also notes that not all microbes are harmful.
In fact, microbes are part of the environment and our digestive system including the mouth and gut. This makes the high content of microbes in masks hardly surprising. Researchers suggest that further tests will determine the kind of bacteria found on the masks. It will also help identify potential causes for other diseases or skin conditions.
The amount of bacteria in a face mask also depends on the material used for the inner layer that remains closest to the mouth.
Dr Joel Lee, Director – School of Applied Science at Nanyang Polytechnic told The Straits Times that the material plays a part in entrapping bacteria after it has been used for 12 hours.
The inner layer is where you cough or sneeze, which then captures the bacteria.
Dr Lee also notes that a disposable mask offers better bacterial filtration and air permeability as compared to a washable face mask. This is because a washable face masks is made of woven material that has larger spaces between fibres. This offers poor bacterial filtration.
Effects Of An Unwashed Face Mask
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Dr Lee further notes that unwashed masks are likely to trap dust, dirt, sweat and other various microbes. This can lead to issues like skin irritation, hypersensitivity and infection.
However, Dr John Chen, assistant professor at the department of microbiology and immunology – National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, says that the bacteria on masks are unlikely to result in something serious. But there could be bacterias that do cause infection if unchecked.
Dr Chen further explains that such bacteria live on healthy skin and could grow to high levels on dirty masks. They can cause severe allergic reactions, respiratory problems, and even nasal infections.
That’s why researchers recommend washing the reusable face mask after every outing to minimise the risk of contracting the virus.
How To Keep Your Washable Face Mask Clean
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Using a reusable or washable face mask is completely safe and is also cleaner for the environment. But, the mask needs to be cleaned after every use to safeguard the health of yourself and your loved ones. Here’s how you can safely wash your face mask at home.
Wash it in the machine
It’s completely safe to wash your face mask in the washing machine along with your regular laundry. The bacteria wash away using regular laundry detergent. All you need to check is the right settings according to the fabric label. As a hat tip, remember to avoid the scented laundry detergent when washing the face mask.
Hand wash the mask
A quicker and simpler way is to watch the face mask by hand under the tap water. Use regular laundry detergent or soap to do so, and rinse with clean water. Hang the face masks in the sun to dry out and they will be soon ready for another round. You can also toss them in the dryer.
Make it a habit to wash the face mask as soon as you enter the home. Take a bath to cleanse yourself off any potential bacteria and wash the mask at the same time. Do carry spare masks in your bag at all times when stepping out of the house.