Face masks are worn when going out in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Cloth masks, surgical masks, and N95 masks have turned into necessities for almost everyone. Because of the demand for surgical masks and N95 masks during the first wave of the pandemic, some people had to reuse their surgical masks and N95 masks even if they are considered disposable.
What is a surgical mask?
A surgical mask is a type of face mask that covers the wearer’s mouth and nose and protects from large droplets, splashes, and sprays of body fluid and liquid that may carry harmful organisms. Similarly, a surgical mask traps the wearer’s respiratory secretions and saliva so that it does not spread to those nearby.
A surgical mask is disposable and should be thrown away after each use. Unlike an N95 mask, a surgical mask has a loose fit and its edges do not create a seal around the user’s mouth and nose. Surgical masks are fluid resistant and are typically worn by healthcare workers.
Should you reuse your surgical mask?
Ideally, you should throw your surgical mask in the bin after using it. However, if there is limited supply and you have no choice but to reuse your surgical mask, you may do so until the surgical mask is dirty, wet, moist, damaged, or begins to lose its elasticity.
If you have several surgical masks, what you can do is rotate them every seven days. Keep them in a clean, dry place for seven days as that is how long the virus survives on surfaces. By the time you go back to the first bag, the virus would be dead.
Can you remove stains from your surgical mask?
Washing a surgical mask affects its filtration ability. Do not wash your surgical mask as wetting the mask makes it ineffective. If you see stains on your surgical mask, discard your mask and get a new one.
Stains on cloth masks may be removed using certain products and simply by washing it in the washing machine then drying it. This is not the case for surgical masks and N95 masks. Dirty, wet, and damaged N95 and surgical masks should be discarded properly.
Can you use bleach on your surgical mask?
Bleaching your surgical mask is a big no. Bleach can ruin the static charge of an N95 or surgical mask. Only cloth masks can be bleached. When bleaching a cloth mask, use a product that does not cause skin irritation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises users to check the label to ensure the bleach is safe to use and is intended for disinfection.
How to avoid staining your surgical mask
To prevent your surgical mask from getting wet or dirty, you may use a face shield on top of it. Similarly, avoid using makeup to prevent staining your surgical mask. Avoiding makeup or limiting the use of unnecessary cosmetics won’t only keep your surgical mask clean but will also minimize skin irritation caused by wearing surgical masks for long periods of time.
Furthermore, you can avoid stains by removing your surgical mask completely when eating or drinking. Do not let your surgical mask hang by your ears. Remove your surgical mask and put it in a clean paper bag while you eat or drink. Of course, you should wash your hands before and after handling your mask.
How to use a surgical mask
It is also important to know how to correctly use your surgical mask to avoid staining, wetting, or damaging it. Before getting a surgical mask, read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use and store the mask. If there are no instructions available, you may follow these steps.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. You may also use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Remove a surgical mask from the box and check for any damages such as tears and holes on both sides of the mask.
- Identify the side of the surgical mask that should be on top. The side that has a flexible edge is meant to be on top.
- Identify the side that should be in front. The colored part is typically the front and should face out. The white part is the side that covers your face.
- Hold the ear loops and put one around each ear.
- Mold the flexible edge so that it takes the shape of your nose.
- Pull the bottom of the surgical mask so that it covers your mouth and chin.
To remove a surgical mask, make sure your hands are clean. Wash it with soap and water or sanitizer before removing your mask. Do not touch the front of the surgical mask as it is contaminated. Gently lift the ear loops and remove the mask. Throw your mask in the trash bin immediately after removal. Finally, wash your hands.
Surgical masks and N95 masks are ideally reserved for healthcare workers. Members of the public are advised to use cloth masks instead of surgical and N95 masks. However, if you prefer the surgical mask over a cloth covering, handle your surgical mask with care, and use it properly.
You should also know when to discard your surgical mask and replace it with a fresh one. Lastly, do not attempt to clean your surgical mask once it has been stained. Washing your surgical mask damages its structure and makes it ineffective. A damaged face mask is the last thing you need during a pandemic.