Breathing, cleaning & Co. – that’s how everyday life works with a mask

Breathing, cleaning & Co. - that's how everyday life works with a mask

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Mask on! Covering the mouth and nose is mandatory in many places. But there is still a lot of uncertainty in dealing with protection. Experts give tips and pointers.In times of corona the mask is part of everyday life. If you have not covered your mouth and nose, you are often not allowed to drive a bus or go to the supermarket.

This is to protect other people – and to some extent yourself – from possible infection with Sars-CoV-2.

The so-called everyday mask made of cotton is only one component of this, in addition to sufficient distance, the right cough and sneeze and regular, thorough hand washing.

But the practical handling of the piece of fabric is tricky: Where do you store the everyday mask if you don’t want to put it on all the time on the way to a shop?

And how do you clean them now – washing machine, oven, ironing board? An infectious disease specialist and a hygienist provide answers to important questions.

How do you transport the mask?

Ideally, it works like this: you have washed your hands thoroughly and then put on your mask. Care is taken not to touch the inside.

But that presupposes that you put them on at home and wear them all the time on your way to the supermarket.

This can be exhausting and the mask can be dampened quite a bit – which is not so good.

If you only want to put them on site, you should wear the cover in a plastic bag instead of in your pocket – or at least in a bag that you don’t usually put in, advises Peter Walger.

The spokesman for the board of the German Society for Hospital Hygiene emphasizes: “The inside must be protected.”

The best thing is to know the situation in which you have to wear it – and then keep it on all the time.

Can the mask also hang around your neck?

It’s often seen – when you don’t need the mask, many people pull it off under the chin. There she dangles loosely around her neck.

The Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) advises against leaving the mask hanging like this. Janne Vehreschild does not see this as a problem.

“From the purely viral infection point of view, it makes little difference whether I wear the mask in a plastic bag or hang it around my neck,” explains the scientist from the German Center for Infection Research, who heads a group of researchers from Cologne and Frankfurt who, for example, describes risk factors from the coronavirus-induced disease Covid-19.

What helps if breathing under the fabric is difficult?

That should not be. But after a period of wearing, many feel a kind of anxiety and feel that it is difficult for them to breathe. The classic cotton masks are actually so permeable that there should not be a lack of oxygen underneath, says Vehreschild.

However, the infectiologist has a possible explanation: “I rather believe that breathing is very conscious and is actively experienced – and then you may imagine a kind of breathlessness.”

His advice: generally keep calm while breathing through the mask and do not inhale or exhale particularly strongly. “This can lead to hyperventilation.” So rather breathe calmly and shallowly and not concentrate so much on it – but deal with other things.

Can the substance be the reason for breathing problems?

According to the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM), firmly woven fabrics are better suited for the everyday mask than lightly woven fabrics – but you should be able to breathe underneath, of course. “You can check the permeability by putting the mask on your lips and seeing if you can breathe well,” advises Vehreschild.

“If you have to blow hard so that air can get through, it’s definitely the wrong stuff.”

This may not be very welcome in business – but especially if you sew the mask yourself, you can easily do this test before you attach a needle and thread.

And how does the mask get clean again?

“Washing in the washing machine at at least 60 degrees or alternatively: boiling them in a pot of water for around ten minutes – these are the safest methods,” explains hygienist Peter Walger.

For the saucepan variant, the mask fabric must be boil-proof, which is usually cotton. But if other materials have been processed, such as rubber, an intermediate layer or certain metals, you should make sure whether you can cook them, according to the expert. The general rule is: “60 degrees and above is virus-killing.”

Is there another way?

Yes, but this is only advisable to a limited extent. “Everything else that is sometimes recommended: oven, microwave, ironing – that may only be an idea if you can’t wash the mask,” says Walger. “But it is also uncertain whether the temperature is the same everywhere,” he adds.

The masks could not hang freely in the oven or in the microwave, maybe lying on a baking sheet. “And what is particularly important is that the masks are not cleaned.”

Masks with wire clips generally do not belong in the microwave – there is a risk of fire. By the way: “Medical masks such as mouth and nose protection or FFP masks cannot and must not be washed. They are single-use items for medical use only,” says Walger.


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