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Everything you should know about when to wash your face masks

Face masks are now as much a part of your wardrobe as a pair of pants - but which gets washed more often?

According to a YouGov poll, approximately one in seven people (14%) have never washed their face mask, even though it's now considered an essential everyday item to stop the spread of Covid-19.

One in seven people never wash their face masks
One in seven people never wash their face masks

Women are twice as likely to clean them after every use while men are far more cavalier when it comes to even introducing a face mask to a washing machine, with 20% admitting theirs has never seen a cycle.

Studies to determine if anyone turns their mask inside out to extend its use are hard to find - but in at least one poll 3% of people will flip their undies the wrong way round to get another day's wear out them!

According to earlier research by YouGov's lead data journalist Matthew Smith, underwear is more likely to be washed after one wear than any other item of clothing.

And, according to the World Health Organisation, the same approach should be taken when it comes to cleaning face coverings.

But just 32% of us are putting them in the laundry basket after one use - and even then we're not cleaning them at the correct 60C.

The WHO says this means just one in eight (13%) of us who wear a washable face mask are maintaining them correctly.

The Department of Health says face covers should cover the mouth and nose - despite many people letting it ride just below their nostrils - and this includes items such as cloths, bandanas or religious garments. Although these are "less effective", according to the government.

Despite a regular misconception that face masks are to protect yourself, the Department of Health explains how face coverings aren't classified as personal protective equipment (PPE) and are "largely intended to protect others" against the spread of infection.

Some have opted for a transparent face visa while picking up some bread and milk in the supermarket aisles which government guidelines say is perfectly acceptable, but only if a mask or other face covering is worn with them.

The WHO says this means just one in eight (13%) of us who wear a washable face mask are maintaining them correctly
The WHO says this means just one in eight (13%) of us who wear a washable face mask are maintaining them correctly

Wearing only a visor isn't good enough protection due to it "not adequately covering the nose and mouth," official guidance states.

Shops aren't the only places you'll spot face masks, as in the UK there are a number of places you must wear one, including on public transport, airports and stations, post offices, businesses which are open, places of worship, public areas in hotels and many more.

If found not to be wearing a face covering in certain places the authorities have the power to issue fines of £200 - which can be reduced to £100 within 14 days - for a first offence.

However, in a crackdown on repeat behaviour anyone caught for a second time will have their fine doubled up to a maximum of £6,400.

You aren't required to wear a mask if you are under the age of 11, are medically exempt, if wearing one will cause you distress, if you're speaking to someone who relies on lip reading or if you are a police officer or emergency worker.

People face fines of up to £200 if not wearing a face mask
People face fines of up to £200 if not wearing a face mask

The Department of Health also outlines how, when removing masks, you should avoid touching the part which has touched your mouth to prevent spreading anything.

Reuseable coverings should also be stored in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them at the highest temperature. Any single use masks should be disposed of in a waste bin and not recycling.

When asked whether the Department of Health thinks there are better choices for face coverings, such as ones used for PPE, or if medical-grade ones will become compulsory, a spokesman said: “We have no plans to make it mandatory for the public to wear PPE.

“The most important and effective actions members of the public can take for protection is to wear a face covering where necessary, staying at home unless leaving is absolutely necessary and maintaining a two-metre social distance when in public.

“While our PPE supply is stable, we are clear that PPE should be reserved for frontline health and social care workers and is not recommended for use in retail and hospitality settings, or by the public.”

More information can be found here.

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