How to Wash a Facemask

The facemask basket sitting by my back door is new. Likely yours is too. It’s one of several things that have appeared in my house since it became the one-stop shop for school, work, entertainment, life, the universe, and everything.  

In addition to remembering to grab one on the way out the door, I also need to remember to clean them afterwards. Fortunately, cleaning non-disposable facemasks is fairly simple.  

Non-disposable facemasks should be washed after every use, per the Center for Disease Control (CDC). (Disposable facemasks should be discarded after every use. Cut the ear loops before tossing to reduce risk of ensnaring wildlife.)  

I know the word “use” is a bit subjective. Some people’s “one use” is 8 hours at work while other’s “one use” is walking in and out of the post office. It’s your call. In general, the more you are around people, the more likely your mask is in need of washing. 

Which leads to the next point, how to clean a facemask. One of the few good pieces of news that came out of the early days of this pandemic was that despite the worldwide devastation, this virus was perhaps unexpectedly easy to destroy outside the body.  

Regular soap or any detergent readily breaks down the fatty layer surrounding the coronavirus, thereby deactivating it. I like how Pall Thordarson, professor of chemistry at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, explains it. However, breaking down this particular virus’s fatty outer layer (technically it’s called an envelope) is not soap’s only power at play here. The main way soap or detergent cleans is by removing any and all debris from surfaces – be it bacteria, virus, dirt, oils, or chemicals. So, even if soap did not break down the coronavirus, it would still carry it away. But it does both. That is the magic of soap. 

All that to say, it was no surprise that the CDC concluded that to wash face masks, all you need is “regular laundry detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth used to make the mask.” Both Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap and Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner are great options since they both work well for laundry. They’re all I use anyway. In addition to their cleaning power, they are both clean rinsing, not leaving behind any residues or fragrances that would make the mask difficult or unpleasant to use.  

To Handwash or Machine Wash 

Both cleaners work for handwashing as well as machine washing. Handwashing extends the lifespan of the mask. Machine washing extends the lifespan of my sanity. You can probably guess my priorities. I end up tossing masks into loads of towels, underwear, and other items I wash on hot.  

If your masks contain any hard pieces, such as nose wires or filters, handwashing is best. The agitation of machine washing could dislodge these pieces or cause them to rip the fabrics. 

Machine Washing: 

Consider using a zippered mesh or net laundry bag to keep the strings or elastics from tangling around other clothes and keep the masks from getting lost altogether. For a large load in a regular capacity washer, use 2-3 Tbsp. (30-45 mL) of Sal Suds or 1/3-1/2 cup (80-120 mL) of Castile Soap. For HE machines, cut these amounts in half. Use the hottest settings the fabrics tolerate.  

Do not use conventional fabric softeners. The fragrance residues they leave behind on fabrics are not good to breathe in general, but on masks through which each and every breath passes, their impact would be intensified and more direct. Instead, if you need fabric softening, or are using the Castile Soap in hard water, use 1 cup (240 mL) of white vinegar in the washer’s rinse cycle. Again, halve the amount in HE machines. 


For handwashing, use a ½ capful of Sal Suds or 1 capful of Castile Soap in a gallon of water in the warmest temperature your hands and the fabric will tolerate. Scrub the masks against themselves for 20 seconds. It’s fine to wash multiple masks in a batch but give each mask its due scrubbing time. Let soak for 10 minutes. Scrub again. Rinse thoroughly. 

To Air Dry or Machine Dry 

As I mentioned, the soap or detergent has already deactivated and removed the virus. The manner of drying does not impact that. However, there are still some pros and cons for each method. 

Machine Drying: 

This method is faster and better for people with allergies, as air-dried fabrics may collect pollen, dust, and other allergens. That’s not a great thing for something that is ultimately pressed right up to your airways. If you choose machine drying, the CDC advises, “Use the highest heat setting and leave in the dryer until completely dry.”  

However, if your cotton mask has not been pre-shrunk, machine drying will likely shrink it. That may be a good thing, as in the case of my daughter who needed a smaller mask, but if it’s your favorite one and fits just right, choose the air option. 

I strongly advise against dryer sheets for the same reason I denounce fabric softeners. They leave residues on the mask, often synthetic fragrances that are harmful to breathe. Use wool dryer balls if needed.  

Air Drying:  

Lay flat to dry, preferably in direct sunlight, until fully dry. Air drying ensures no shrinkage, is gentler on the fabrics, and will ultimately prolong the masks’ lifespans. Masks with hard components should always be air dried. 

After each wash, examine the mask to be sure it is still intact. Any holes will reduce its effectiveness. 

MaskRefreshing Spritz 

Here’s one last tip. This won’t clean your mask, but it will freshen it up throughout the day, plus give some pleasant aromatherapy and cover the scent of that tasty garlic-roasted broccoli you ate for lunch. Give the mask one spritz of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint or Lavender Organic Hand Sanitizer before putting it on. If hand sanitizer is too precious, you can make your own scented spray by following the simple steps below. This is not enough to sanitize, but it does make a refreshing spritz for masks, as well as for body or air.  

GIY Mask Refreshing Spritz 

  • ¼ cup (60 mL) Vodka 
  • 10-15 drops essential oils such as Lavender, Peppermint or Citrus 

Combine in a small spray bottle. Spritz mask once before putting on. 

With kids, facemasks have posed a number of unexpected and humorous problems. For example, my teenage boys aren’t identical but look enough alike that you know they’re brothers. Cover their faces, though? You might assume that the taller one is the older one. Which was true last time his school mates saw him. But in the months since, my younger son shot up past his brother, even past his father. With facemasks, people confuse them constantly. So far my boys have been very gracious about it, but I fear they’ll soon take advantage of the mix-ups, and then the mischief will begin! 

It looks like masks are going to be with us for a while yet. While there are other mask related difficulties like remembering to remove them before drinking or deciding which look professional enough for work, at least keeping them clean is relatively easy.  

Further reading

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Grandma Mary says:

Hi Lisa, I am mixing your Lavender Pure-Castile Soap with water in my foaming hand soap dispenser to wash my hands. Is this combination safe to use on my granite countertops?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Mary- Depending on the ratio in your foaming pump dispenser, it’s likely more concentrated that what you’d want to clean countertops (although it won’t harm granite). For cleaning granite, add 1/4 cup Castile Soap to 1 quart water in a spray bottle. Spray and wipe with a damp cloth. This All-Purpose Spray works wonders on most hard surfaces.

Adrian says:

Hi Lisa, glad to see a new post in the page. I guess you’re being more active on Facebook but I’m out of that network. I’m curious to know how are your cloth facemasks? I think the Dr. Bronner’s t-shirt would make a great and colourful facemask.

Keep it going with the tips, you know we love them!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Adrian- Thanks for the encouragement! I agree that a Dr. Bronner’s t-shirt – especially the tie-dye – would make a gorgeous facemask. I have not had the sewing muse strike me recently, so I’ve just been buying simple cotton facemasks. You are right that the blog has been moving a little slower these days. That is because we are redesigning it at this very moment, and the new design will launch soon! Stay tuned! Then I will resume my two posts a month rate.

For the Good of Humanity, Wear a Mask! – Dr. Bronner's says:

[…] to the present circumstances rather than pretend nothing is wrong—check out Lisa Bronner’s latest piece on how to keep your stash of reusable facemasks clean with Dr. […]

Linda Whitlock says:

Do you spray the inside of the mask or the outside of the mask for the face mask spritz? I plan on using Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Hand Sanitizer.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Linda – The purpose of the spritz is merely personal enjoyment. I spray it on the inside.

Melinda says:

Curious, you mention your spritz. Can it be used for laundry sanitizing? Or do you have a recipe for that? Thanks

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Melinda – No, this spritz is not an effective sanitizer, either for skin or fabrics.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Therese- Castile Soap is made with natural vegetable oils that nourish skin. What will make your skin most happy comes down to skin type and personal preference. Tea Tree Castile helps balances out combination and oily skin and minimizes breakouts. The Unscented Castile is the most most mild and gentle on sensitive skin. For some skin types, especially dry skin, the Peppermint can be too intense and drying. In that case the Castile Bar Soap and Organic Sugar Soaps are extra moisturizing options. Use 2-3 drops on damp skin. With a new regimen, give your skin about two weeks to adjust.

RachelC says:

Great info for washing the masks and for the amounts to use in an HE machine. I’ve got into the habit of washing the masks as soon as I get in the door, as I try to wash my hands right away, but I haven’t been soaking them. Keeping track of my daughter’s masks is definitely a bit more challenging and she’s already come home with someone else’s. Now if only there was a trick to get rid of the pet hair I invariably have on the inside of my mask “blah”

Scott ballering says:

I have a better solution just stop wearing a mask. All they do is capture the viruses, bacteria, molds, funguses and other toxin your body rids itself of with every breathe. They also restrict to amount of fresh oxygen your body needs, not to mention causing your body to reinhale those toxins and carbon dioxide your body is try to expel.

In other words KILLING your immune system, stomach bacteria so you all die faster.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Scott – Thanks for taking the time to write. Breathing fresh clean air is an important consideration.

A note to all commenters: I do not mind a civil discourse about this issue, although I intentionally did not bring up the “oughtness” of mask wearing in my article, but instead focused on how to wash them when worn. I will remove any unkind, off-point comments or name calling.

Beth Goren says:

Great share, Lisa! I’m grateful to know that I’m actioning the mask-cleaning in the ways I share! Seems to be becoming the new normal. Many thnx again for all your suggestions–all fairly straight-forward and recognizable. Best to you and the fam and world you share with. (Ziji) Beth Goren

Bill says:

Great stuff, Sal Suds. I’ve been hand-washing my masks with it since we started using reusable masks. Works great, doesn’t harm the nice designs and images on the masks, and a little goes such a long way.
Not always easy to find, but when it’s in we buy enough to last.
I have been using Dr Bronner’s Peppermint Soap too, for about 50 years now! Discovered it in my youth, and have been using it ever since
All One Or None!

Beverly O'Shea says:

Thank you Lisa! Its so good to get accurate information from a site I know i can trust. Quick question about the spritz spray…..if I use grain alcohol, which is 95%, that could work as a hand sanitizer also, correct? I found your lavender hand sanitizer a while back at Fresh Thyme near my home. My grandkids LOVE it, as do I. So I definitely won’t use that as a mask refresher, as I hoard it because its hard to find. Believe me, I search every week both online and in stores with no avail. I am getting very close to the end of my bottle. I can feel myself getting a little anxious every time I use it anticipating the time I go to spray it and the bottle spritzes out just a few droplets😬. At any rate, I thought I might be able to fill in with your recipe it I up the alcohol % until I can find some in stock anywhere. Btw, have you considered making a refill bottle to cut down on the extra bottles? I am sure it would sell just as well as the 2 oz spray. Thank you again for your great products. I found Sal Suds a few years ago when I searched online for a clean, safe and environmentally friendly carpet cleaner. It’s amazing!! Since then I have used it in my laundry, hand soap pump bottles and most recently all purpose cleaner in varying strengths. Its a godsend because almost every other recipe for natural cleaners include vinegar and I cannot handle the smell. No matter how much I try, I can’t disguise the odor and I quite literally get nauseous and a headache. But no more, because I have my Sal Suds!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Beverly – Thanks for your kind words! I’m glad our products have helped. The grain alcohol would be fine for the spritz. I would not trust the spritz though to sanitize the mask. I don’t think that’s what you’re asking though. Regarding making your own hand sanitizer, I have to defer to the FDA .

Jessica says:

I’m using the Dr. Bronner’s hand sanitizer spray in lavender for refreshes. It’s perfect! Already mixed and I have a lot of them.

Frank says:

Regarding your face mask spritz recipe, do you have a substItute for Vodka. I’m not a tea toteler, but I don’t drink or have around liquor. Thanks.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Frank – You can substitute isopropyl alcohol – aka rubbing alcohol – but cut it in half. You don’t need it full strength. The only drawback is that isopropyl alcohol is already denatured (something is added to make it unpleasant to drink) which could also give it a scent. You might notice it in the facemask. Give it a try, though.

Diane Martinson says:

I just wash my masks when I wash my hands each time I come in from being out, but I don’t soak them just wash with Dr. Bronners that I have added essential oil to and then hang to dry. I hope not soaking isn’t necessary to kill Covid, I do iron them because I read heat will kill it.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Patty – You can substitute isopropyl alcohol – aka rubbing alcohol – but cut it in half. You don’t need it full strength. The only drawback is that isopropyl alcohol is already denatured (something is added to make it unpleasant to drink) which could also give it a scent. I chose Vodka because it is mostly scentless, but you might not notice the scent if you add the essential oils.

Justin says:

I just finished hand washing my pile of masks with some good ol’ Dr. Bronner’s liquid eucalyptus. It’s so easy and such a nice little meditative moment that it makes me think maybe these anti-maskers just need some Dr. B’s magic soap to turn their selfish attitudes around (if only it were that easy, but one can wish…)
Thanks for the soap, the blog, and all of your family’s stellar activism (MAPS, etc.) Lots of love to you and yours!

Beverly O'Shea says:

Justin, I will join you in that wish. I love to be a part of a “conspiracy ” to do good! ☺

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Jean- I’m sorry you’re having trouble finding it! Our products are typically sold in natural grocery stores and organic markets. Sal Suds is most often in the cleaning department and not alongside our Castile Soaps. It’s also available through our webstore ( We’ve had an increase in demand the last several months, so if it’s out of stock, keep checking back.

Karena says:

I don’t know where you live, but your local natural foods store may be able to special-order it for you. Maybe even your regular grocery store – mine carries the castille soaps – I imagine they could order in the Sal Suds, too, if I asked for it.

Beverly O'Shea says:

Jean, I got my first bottle at Target! Good luck finding it soon. You will LOVE it.

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

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