I’ve Been Washing My Face Masks in the Dishwasher, and I Think You Should Too

updated Jan 8, 2021
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Someone holding fabric face masks.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

If you have time to wash your cloth masks after every use, I hope you also have a list of other things you’d rather do. It’s a tall order from the CDC: “Wash your cloth mask whenever it gets dirty or at least daily. If you have a disposable face mask, throw it away after wearing it once,” the site reads.

I should have dozens of masks, like I do socks, but I only have eight or so that I take to the laundromat with my other clothes every couple of weeks. My granny cart wheels over so many N-95s littered on the sidewalk — a bleak reminder that disposable masks will outlast this pandemic and us. 

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Buying Masks for Wearing to the Grocery Store (and Beyond)

Watching cases spike month after month had me eying more stay-at-home sanitation options, because handwashing reusable cloth masks after every use is straight-up inconvenient. Kind of like hand-washing dishes used to be before I got a place with a dishwasher. But then I started thinking: If a dishwasher could make our dishes sparkle and sanitize them well enough to eat off of, I had a feeling it could also handle masks.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Of course, a feeling isn’t epidemiologist-approved, so I reached out to Melissa Hawkins, a professor of epidemiology at American University, to bounce my wacky idea off her hard-earned degree.

Hawkins pointed out that hand-washing can certainly agitate the fabric a little better, but my hands can’t withstand the high temperatures a dishwasher reaches to sanitize my dinnerware. “A normal cycle gets hot enough. The dry cycle gets really hot,” she confirms. Yep, enough to sanitize baby bottles, according to the CDC.

“As long as you have them spread out on the top rack, then that is reasonable,” she says. “It might not be the first preferred way. Washing machine is number one. Hand-washing, number two. Dishwasher, number three.” For me, that was all-systems-go, though. Number three is better than my number four: Going to the laundromat in one of my “cleaner masks” to wash the rest. If doing a load of laundry means going to a public laundromat like it does for me, you certainly reduce your risk of spreading COVID by staying safe at home. 

“If you’re thinking of going to a shared laundry room … balancing that with being able to clean [masks] more frequently in your own home, I think this [method] is reasonable,” Hawkins says. (Even if you have laundry in your home, I’m guessing most of us run our dishwashers more often than we run our washing machines.)

I couldn’t have agreed more, but then she really put it into perspective: “We live in a world where we have to think about safety, risk, and precaution, so we have to be practical.” For me, the laundromat doesn’t feel as safe or fun as it used to. (How I wish I could sip a vending machine seltzer in the $1 massage chair with a COVID-clear conscience.) 

So, how do you practically wash your masks in the dishwasher? First, make sure your dishwasher is working at its best by emptying the filter and cleaning it with a little vinegar. Only load in rinsed dishes, and don’t stick any non-dishes in there. (I once added my kitchen step stool to a load of dishes and masks, and got a bit of grit between the pleats of the fabric.)

Place masks on the top rack, either flat or tented over a prong. Tie any loose strings that could get caught on something, and run the cycle as usual. When it’s time to unload them, have a hanger with a few clothespins ready. Cotton masks are pretty absorbent, but after an overnight line-dry, they’ll be ready for whatever exciting adventures await — like going to the grocery store.

All joking aside, this method has kept me safe and sanitized. I used to lose track of which masks I’d worn, but now I store them in my closet, dried and clothes-pinned, so I can unpin one as needed. And that’s every day for the next long haul, so hang in there, folks! The cycle — of dishes and mask-wearing — continues, but hopefully this tip takes a load off.