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Jakarta Post

Cloth masks: How to wash them, and are they effective?

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, November 5, 2020   /   03:05 pm
Cloth masks: How to wash them, and are they effective? Washing cloth masks using ordinary detergents or detergents containing chlorine (bleach) is enough to kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (shutterstock.com/praditkhorn somboonsa/File)

Face masks have become a must as a vital piece of equipment to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. But rather than the medical masks that were the focus of the buying frenzies immediately following the emergence of COVID-19, many people today are opting for cloth masks.

Cloth masks are more economical and environmentally friendly because they can be worn, washed and worn again.

So how and when should we wash cloth masks?

According to the South Jakarta head of the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) M. Yadi Permana, washing masks to rid it of any potential droplets carrying SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isn’t rocket science.

"Actually, using ordinary [laundry] detergent or those containing chlorine is enough to kill the coronavirus,” Yadi said on Wednesday as quoted by tempo.co.

Yadi explained that several studies referred to special procedures for washing cloth masks, like presoaking them for an hour in hot water. In fact, he said, maintaining cloth masks didn’t require any special methods or pretreatment. It was enough to simply wash them as usual, and did not require any presoaking.

"Detergents that contain chlorine [bleach] can kill various types of viruses," he said.

Yadi also suggested washing masks separately from clothing. "[Masks] should be separated because while clothes might have [aerosol] droplets, the cloth masks might have directly [expelled] droplets," he said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or even sings and someone is within 1 meter of that person, particularly in a confined space. It can also be spread when the droplets land on an object or a surface and someone touches it.

The WHO recommends washing cloth masks "at least once a day".

An earlier study that ranked 14 types of commonly available masks found that medical masks offered significantly more protection against droplet transmission than masks made from cotton fabrics. Meanwhile, it found that bandanas and balaclavas didn't do much at all in terms of protection.

Surgical masks, which contain polypropylene, are not far behind, reducing droplet transmission by 90 percent or more compared to not wearing any face coverings at all.

Handmade cotton masks also provide good protection, eliminating 70 to 90 percent of the spray from normal speech, depending on the number of fabric layers and the pleating.

But bandanas only reduced respiratory droplets by 50 percent, while neck fleeces actually increased the amount of spray, likely because they helped break up the largest droplets into many smaller droplets.

Professionally fitted N95 masks, the medical grade masks worn by frontline health workers at hospitals, reduce droplet transmission to less than 0.1 percent, Agence France-Presse reported in August.

Finally, the N95 respirator masks with valves are designed for industrial settings, where what the wearer exhales is less important than the potentially harmful or hazardous substances they might inhale. These were found to perform roughly on a par with cloth masks in reducing the amount of exhaled droplets. (iwa)

Editor’s note: This article is part of a public campaign by the COVID-19 task force to raise people’s awareness about the pandemic.