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How should I clean my reusable cloth facemask?

May 27: MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions. Got a question about COVID-19? Send it to us at CovidQ@mit.edu, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer. 

I read something about putting a cloth mask on a cooking-mode rice cooker to kill the virus. Is there a certain temperature where we can kill COVID-19?

Illustration of a gloved hand using tongs to remove a PPE mask from a steaming rice cooker

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while viruses typically survive for shorter periods in hotter temperatures, we do not yet have specific information about the temperature at which the SARS-CoV-2 virus is inactivated. 

That said, when it comes to killing viruses, there’s no substitute for soap and water. The CDC recommends washing your cloth masks in the washing machine with the rest of your laundry. It can be helpful to put them inside a mesh laundry page or zippered pillowcase to keep straps and ear-loops from getting tangled up with other laundry inside the machine. 

You can also hand-wash your masks in a bleach solution made up of 4 teaspoons household bleach per quart of room-temperature water. (Check the label to make sure your bleach is intended for disinfection.) Soak the face covering in the bleach solution for 5 minutes, and rinse thoroughly with cool or room-temperature water.

To machine-dry your mask, the CDC recommends using the highest heat setting and leaving it in the dryer until completely dry (and still in the mesh bag or pillowcase). If you don’t have access to a machine dryer, you can lay your mask flat to air dry, preferably in direct sunlight. 

The rice cooker is a versatile kitchen appliance, indeed, but it’s not helpful when it comes to sanitizing your cloth facemasks. Save it for cooking rice and, apparently, almost anything else you might imagine — rice-cooker pineapple upside-down cake, anyone?

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