How Often Should Cloth Face Masks Be Replaced? (What Your Customers Should Know)
The cloth face mask has become the go-to accessory this year, with mask mandates in effect in major cities and states across the U.S. and public health experts strongly urging people to wear masks in any setting outside the home. This, as we know, has contributed to booming demand for branded masks in the promo industry.
But, unlike your favorite sweatshirt, research shows that you shouldn’t just set your mask down on a chair and wear it every day. You still need to wash them regularly. And, because of that, your mask will actually become less effective the more you wash it.
“Since the basic principle of masks works by blocking the distance droplets travel, cloth masks will become less effective the more they get washed as they become more threadbare,” Jon Chan, lab manager of testing at Reviewed, told USA Today.
So, how often should you replace your face mask with a new one? That answer depends on the quality and construction of the mask, and also how tough your washing machine is on it. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, these are the main considerations when determining if a mask is past its lifespan:
- Loose Fit: If the mask is stretched out and no longer fits snugly to your face.
- See-Through: If the material is see-through when held up to light
- Repeated Adjustment: If the mask is missing straps, loose-fitting or otherwise in need of adjustments that require the wearer to repeatedly touch it.
- Rips or Tears: If the fabric is ripped, even on the sides or a part that isn't directly over the wearer's mouth or nose.
- Single-Use: This applies less to cloth masks, but any mask intended to be disposable should not be reused.
The best piece of advice, though, is from Christopher Sulmonte, project administrator for the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medical, who advised having a rotation. Again, your mask shouldn’t be like your trusty hoodie.
This is especially important for people who wear them every day, like workers who cannot work from home. For businesses, this means supplying face masks in sufficient numbers to workers so they can be sure to wear an effective mask while they’re on the job. Apple did this to some extent with their proprietary face masks, giving workers at their California headquarters as well as in retail locations enough masks to always maintain safety.
Also, through rotation, you can wash a mask less often, prolonging its lifespan.
There are quick tests you can do at home, especially now that it’s cold out. Go outside and see how far your visible breath goes beyond your mask. If it’s going further than an inch, Sulmonte says it’s probably time to replace the mask.
These are all considerations your customers may not be aware of. And, if they're not, making them aware could nudge them in the direction of reorders while building trust as you reinforce that you care about the health of their employees or end-users.
If people aren’t replacing the masks they’ve worn down through constant use, they’re going to buy more so they can more easily rotate during the week. And not every business can be Apple, churning out proprietary masks in fancy packaging. Companies that can’t operate through remote work will need to consistently give their employees masks, and ensure that the masks they wear are working as promised.
It’s worth checking in with your clients who have bought face masks in the past to see if they need more. They might not be aware of the wear and tear of regular usage, and welcome the opportunity to buy more.