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VERIFY: Sanitize your cloth masks in the washing machine, not the microwave

Social media posts claim you can sanitize your cloth masks in the microwave. But the CDC recommends you use the washing machine.

After the Center of Disease Control and Prevention started recommending the use of fabric masks, many people have started to wonder about best practices for disinfecting.

A viewer asked about Facebook posts they saw recommending you put your fabric mask into a Ziploc bag after every use and microwave it for two to three minutes. The post claimed this was an effective way of sanitizing your mask.

But there are more effective -- and safer -- ways of cleaning your household masks.

THE QUESTION

Should you place your fabric masks in a Ziploc bag and microwave for two to three minutes after each use to sanitize it?

THE ANSWER

No. The CDC recommends sanitizing your cloth masks by putting them in the washing machine. They make no mention of microwaves.

WHAT WE FOUND

A CDC spokesperson told VERIFY in an email, "The safe way to sterilize and clean a cloth face covering is in a washing machine."

A factsheet the CDC distributed on using cloth face masks goes into more detail. It once again says you should use a washing machine and talks about generally how often you should wash them.

It says they should be "routinely washed depending on the frequency of use." It doesn't delve into more detail than that.

However, the CDC doesn't necessarily they must be washed after every use. Just to wash them often.

A Smart Air Filters blog post noted that microwaving masks could melt the mask material or even start a fire.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman, Senior Vice President Chief Quality and Safety Officer at Advent Health, there are different ways healthcare workers can sterilize N95 respirators for reuse. Those ways include through humid heat, chemical cleaners and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation.

However, the CDC is recommending that healthy people only use cloth face masks. They say surgical masks or N95 respirators should be saved for medical workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. They mention that in the factsheet, as well.

So for most people, simply throwing a cloth mask into a washing machine works fine. Regardless of the potential effectiveness of microwaving a cloth mask, using a washing machine is a better option because it cleans the mask without creating unneeded safety risks.