How often should we be washing our face masks? And other hygiene questions you've wanted to ask a doctor

How often should we be washing our face masks? And other hygiene questions you've wanted to ask a doctor

Straight from the professionals

Text: Cheryl Chan

Image: Instagram | @verawanggang
Image: Instagram | @klungsee.samadunshop

The new normal looks a lot like this for most of us right now. Wash your hands repeatedly for at least 20 seconds. Sanitize them whenever you come into contact with outside surfaces. Put on a face mask the moment you step foot out of your house.

Rinse, lather, repeat literally.

As the circuit breaker measures start to relax, and many of us will slowly be allowed to leave the house (hairdressers come through!), it's important to continue to keep our hygiene practices up as we don't know how long it will take to defeat this pandemic.

We've been instructed not to touch our faces, especially if our hands haven't been thoroughly cleaned, but what about our clothes? As well as the cloth face masks that we've been mandated to wear? Can we accidentally bring back the disease into our homes if we don't thoroughly clean them?

To answer all our questions, we consulted Dr Edwin Chng, medical director at Parkway Shenton on what are some of the best practices we should implement each time we return home.

Do I need to wash my outside clothes separately from my home clothes?

As some of us live in split households where some family members are considered essential workers and the rest are working from home, there is some confusion on how the laundry should be split. Is it completely necessary to separate laundry loads as their clothes would have prolonged exposure to the outside world?

Well, according to Dr Edwin Chng, if the essential workers haven't been exposed to a suspected Covid-19 case, it's still ok to wash your clothes together. "Washing our clothes and taking a  shower with soap and water immediately is ideal if we are in public or have been contact with suspect cases," he shared. "But there is no need to wash our clothes separately because the COVID virus is easily killed by soap/ detergent and water."

How often do I need to wash my face mask? What if I only wore it for five minutes?

While it's important to note that cloth masks are not replacements for medical-grade quality masks like the N95, it's still effective enough for most civilians to be wearing to go about their day. A cloth or homemade mask can reduce the concentration of virus particles that can be inhaled from respiratory droplets, but just keep in mind, they can still be carriers for the virus.

Because of this, Dr Chng still recommends frequent washing, even if you only had the mask on for your five-minute coffee run. "If possible, surgical face masks should be changed after 6 hours," he advises. "For cloth face masks, they should be washed with each use even if it is less than 5 minutes."

How do I effectively clean my mask? Should I be dependent on chemicals or high heat?

Since we should be washing our face masks with every usage (regardless of the duration worn), it's ideal to keep a couple on hand so that you can rotate them. Many fashion brands have pivoted their manufacturing of clothing to making face masks during this time, and there's a myriad of styles (as well as price points) for you to choose from. And if you're unwilling to spend the money, fashion influencers are also posting their own DIY tips and hacks on how to fashion your own out of items you already have at home.

So how exactly should you be washing them? And do you need special disinfectants? Here's what Dr Chng had to say, "Clothes should be washed with soap or detergent using the warmest appropriate water setting and they need to be dried completely. Prior to washing, do not shake any dirty laundry to minimize the possibility of dispersing the virus through the air. Wash or disinfect any laundry bags you use regularly."

So there you have it, straight from the doctor's mouth itself. While the constant washing might be a pain, just remember there are no short cuts to staying safe and healthy! Let's all do our parts to keep our homes safe for us and our loved ones.