Can I reuse a face mask? Hygiene rules around surgical masks explained - and if you should be washing them

As it is now mandatory for members of the public to wear face coverings on public transport and in shops, you might be wondering about how to properly use a face mask
This is what you need to know about face masks (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)This is what you need to know about face masks (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
This is what you need to know about face masks (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

It is now mandatory in Scotland to wear face masks whilst using public transport and in spaces where it might be difficult to maintain social distancing, such as in supermarkets.

If you’re already wearing a face mask, or looking to make your own, here’s what you need to know about reusing masks.

Can I wash and reuse a face mask?

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Whether you can wash and reuse a face mask depends on what kind of face mask you’re using.

If you’re using thin, surgical masks then no, these cannot be washed and reused as they are designed to be disposable, single-use masks.

The World Health Organisation states: “Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not reuse single-use masks.”

If you’re using a cloth face covering, for example something that you’ve made yourself at home, then yes, you should be washing your face mask between uses.

The advice is to put your cloth mask in the wash after every use. So, every time you return home from the supermarket for example, you should put the mask in the wash and let it dry before using it again.

How do I effectively clean my face mask?

The Centre for Disease Control states that “a washing machine should suffice properly washing a face covering”.

Because of the frequency of washing required, you should make sure you have multiple masks that you can rotate with whilst the other ones are being washed and dried.

You can make your own masks at home using household items like t-shirts and pillowcases.

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How do I make my own face mask?

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You can easily make a cloth face mask at home, whether you know how to sew or not.

You can read more about sewn cloth face covering instructions from the CDC here. You’ll need two 10” by 6” rectangles of cotton fabric, two 6” pieces of elastic, needle, thread, scissors and a sewing machine.

For those of us who do not have access to a sewing machine, or don’t know how to sew, there are a variety of “no sew” methods you can follow.

This is a quick cut t-shirt face mask tutorial from the CDC that you can follow at home:

- You’ll need a t-shirt and a pair of scissors

- First, cut about seven to eight inches of material from the bottom of the t-shirt. From this band of material, cut out six to seven inches from the centre of the band

- You should see the face mask begin to take shape - cut the two tie strings at the back of the mask. You can now use this DIY t-shirt mask to tie to your face when you go out and about

Alternatively, you can follow these steps from the government, that explains how to make a face covering using either a sew or no sew method.

How do I effectively wear a mask?

These are the steps you should take when wearing a face mask, according to WHO.

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Before putting on your mask, make sure your hands are clean - wash them thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

When putting your mask on, make sure your mouth and nose are covered, with no gaps between your face and the mask.

Avoid touching the mask whilst it’s on your face - if you do accidentally touch the mask, make sure and wash your hands with soap and water as soon as possible.

When it comes time to remove the mask, always remove it from behind, making sure to avoid touching the front of it. Immediately discard the mask if it is a single use mask, or place it in the washing machine and wash immediately if it’s a cloth mask.

When should I be wearing a mask?

In Scotland, members of the public must wear a face covering on public transport and in public transport premises such as train stations and airports.

It is also mandatory in Scotland to wear face coverings in the likes of shops and supermarkets as well.

If you are wearing a face mask, you will also still need to follow the standard social distancing guidelines, such as staying two metres away from people where possible.