This Face Mask Mistake Can Make You Sick, Says Study

Leah Groth
·3-min read

As the months have progressed since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified late last year in Wuhan, China, we have learned more about how protective face coverings can prevent the spread of the virus. While most research supports their effectiveness, one new study has found that a common mask mistake can compromise their integrity and make you more likely to get infected with the potentially deadly virus. Read on, and also don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Masks Should be Considered Contaminated After Each Use, Study Claims

The study, published this month in BMJ Open, found that masks were most effective protecting against viral infections from common respiratory pathogens such as the flu, rhinoviruses (common cold viruses), and seasonal coronaviruses if washed daily after use. Researchers also concluded that the temperature at which the mask is laundered is also crucial, citing that they should be washed at a high temperature to ensure they are decontaminated.

"Both cloth masks and surgical masks should be considered 'contaminated' after use," Professor Raina MacIntyre, who conducted the study, explained in an accompanying press release. "Unlike surgical masks, which are disposed of after use, cloth masks are re-used. While it can be tempting to use the same mask for multiple days in a row, or to give it a quick hand-wash or wipe-over, our research suggests that this increases the risk of contamination."

It's important to note that the randomized trial that this research is based on was conducted in 2015, long before the term COVID-19 became globally recognized. However, researchers from the University of New South Wales at Sydney who analyzed the data point out that due to the fact COVID-19 is a coronavirus, the findings should be the same.

"Given the potential implications for health workers or community members who are using cloth masks during the pandemic, we did a deep dive into the 2011 data on whether the health workers in our study washed their masks daily, and if so, how they washed their masks. We found that if cloth masks were washed in the hospital laundry, they were as effective as a surgical mask," she continued.

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"The WHO Recommends Machine Washing Masks"

As part of the study, the masks were also hand washed, which doubled the chances of infection compared to machine washing them.

"The WHO recommends machine washing masks with hot water at 60 degrees Celsius and laundry detergent, and the results of our analysis support this recommendation," says Professor MacIntyre. "Washing machines often have a default temperature of 40 degree or 60 degrees, so do check the setting. At these very hot temperatures, handwashing is not possible. The clear message from this research is that cloth masks do work – but once a cloth mask has been worn, it needs to be washed properly each time before being worn again, otherwise it stops being effective." As for yourself, wear a mask, avoid crowds, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.