Right now, millions of Americans are investing in a protective mask for the first time as part of the fight against the coronavirus.  State officials are beginning to urge citizens to wear a mask whenever they leave their homes, which means that many of us are suddenly forced to choose the right protective mask, despite the fact that the CDC has been largely unclear about how to choose the right one in order to minimize the risk of catching and spreading the virus as much as possible.

Choosing the right face mask, it turns out, is only half the battle.  Your mask can only protect you properly if you handle it correctly in a way that ensures you avoid contamination.  It’s easier to contaminate your mask than you may think, and unfortunately, in some circumstances, a contaminated mask is more dangerous than no mask at all.

Do: Clean Your Mask Properly Whenever You Get Home

Your mask acts as a filtration system that stops virus droplets from entering your mouth and nose.  That means that there’s a chance that your mask is accumulating these viral droplets, and we know that they can linger on surfaces for a period of time.  This is why washing your mask properly when you get home is absolutely essential.  Otherwise, you could be contaminating your home without even realizing it.

The best and easiest way to wash your mask is by using warm water and a hydrogen peroxide.  Soak your mask in a solution of at least one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water for thirty minutes.  This will kill any viral droplets that are on the surface of the mask. 

Don’t: Touch Your Mask Before Washing Your Hands

When you get home after your essential errands, the first thing that you want to do is take off your mask.  But, not so fast.  Your hands could very well be contaminated after touching surfaces outside of your home.  After all, we know that surfaces can hold the virus for relatively long periods of time, and the CDC specifically urges us to wash our hands whenever we come back inside after leaving our homes.  This is why you should not even consider removing your mask until you’ve properly washed your hands.  Remember it this way: only clean hands should ever touch your mask.

Don’t: Touch Your Eyes or Face While Wearing a Mask

Remember that a mask is effective against viral droplets entering your mouth and nose, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of your face or your eyes are safe from contamination.  While you’re wearing your mask, resist the temptation to touch your face or your eyes, as these areas are still vulnerable.

Do: Rotate Masks if Possible

If you can, try to own more than one mask so that you can rotate them.  This is helpful in the event that you suspect that one mask has become contaminated, and you don’t have the time or resources to properly disinfect it before having to put it on again.

Do: Handle Your Mask with Gloves if Possible

If you can, only handle your mask when wearing gloves.  This minimizes the risk of contaminating it by touching it with unclean hands.  Many people are choosing to wear gloves in addition to wearing a mask when leaving the home, so if this makes you feel safer, then by all means go ahead.  The more protective gear, the better in these times.

Don’t: Let Anyone Else Touch Your Mask

This should go without saying, but it is important that no one touches your mask but you.  We don’t know what other people have been touching, and so allowing them to handle your mask greatly increases your chance of catching the virus. 

Don’t: Leave Your Mask on an Unclean Surface

Where you store your mask when it’s not in use is almost as important as how you handle it when you’re wearing it.  Be extremely mindful of where you keep your mask when you’re not wearing it.  Throwing it on a kitchen counter that has not been properly sanitized, for instance, is a bad idea.  If your mask becomes contaminated, putting it on your face puts you at a higher risk.  Only keep your mask somewhere that has been properly sanitized.

Don’t: Take Off Your Mask While You’re Out

This may seem a bit obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t want to keep their mask on the entire time they’re out of the home.  They may wish to temporarily pull it up so that they can talk to someone they know, or so that they can eat something while they’re out and about.  Taking off your mask, even just for a minute, can still put you at a higher risk of catching the virus, especially if its airborne qualities are as strong as we’re beginning to believe.  Once your mask is on, it should stay on until you’re back at home.

Summary

If you want to keep your mask safe from contamination, the guidelines above are essential.  Otherwise, you could be putting yourself more at risk than before.  Follow each step carefully as this will help you lower the chances of catching the virus.