(NEXSTAR) – Have you ever found yourself with just one mask option – wearing a disposable you’ve worn once before? Maybe you had it in your jacket pocket or in your car’s cup holder. But do you really have to wear a disposable mask more than once?
There is no “hard and fast rule” for wearing disposable masks, Chris Sulmonte, project administrator for Johns Hopkins’ biological containment unit, told Nexstar. Instead, there are two main factors you need to take into account.
First, Sulmonte says to assess the fit of the mask. Any mask, whether it’s a KN95, a light blue disposable mask, or a reusable mask, should fit well. If the earrings start to dilate or stretch, or if gaps develop on the side or around the mask, it is time to replace the mask.
Second, the material of the mask itself and the wear and tear it has suffered. If the mask appears worn or discolored, Sulmonte recommends changing it. How the mask was previously worn matters, he explained – there’s a big difference between a mask worn in a low-traffic store for light purchases and one used for exercise.
“This [lightly-used] the mask doesn’t have a lot of residue inside, a lot of sweat, things that break down the material or make it thin, ”Sulmonte explains. But if you take that same mask, wear it to the gym for a 60-minute workout, and sweat in it, it’s best not to wear that mask again. “A lot of times you’ll see some discoloration, you’ll see a lot of moisture inside, you’ll start to see the material, and it will start to wear down a bit. Now is probably the right time to change that.
If you’re wearing a reusable mask, Sulmonte says you can treat them like clothes.
“It’s the same as you have with a T-shirt,” he explains. “You can tell the difference when the shirt has been used and when you probably should have it cleaned. “
If your reusable mask doesn’t look fresh or looks worn, it’s time to wash it.
If you leave a mask in your car, gym bag, or anywhere else for easy access, Sulmonte recommends storing it in a paper or plastic bag. Because there will always be moisture on a mask after you’ve worn it, Sulmonte notes that the bag needs to be able to stay open, allowing the mask to air out.
Overall, Sulmonte says the most important characteristics of a mask are that it fits well and has multiple layers.
“These are really the most important pieces. So if you are able to do this for most of the situations that you are going to encounter, it will provide the protection you are looking for. “