How to Keep Your Mask From Wreaking Havoc on Your Washing Machine

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Face masks are now among our most essential everyday accessories, and we all have our favorites, just as we have particular clothes in our wardrobes that have special memories or meanings associated with them. Your favorite masks might have been gifted to you by a friend, made by a loved one, or you proudly made yourself, like I did. Prior to last summer, I had never used a sewing machine successfully, but with the help of a community of activist sewers, the Auntie Sewing Squad, I learned how to sew masks for myself and countless others! Unfortunately what I didn't take time to do, was to follow a very basic precaution when laundering my masks, resulting in an avoidable and costly washing-machine repair bill months later.

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The CDC has offered basic guidelines to store and wash masks in a washing machine:

  • "Include your mask with your regular laundry."
  • "Use regular laundry detergent and the appropriate settings according to the fabric label."

While I have always followed both, and managed to go months without losing or damaging my homemade and gifted masks in the wash, a couple months back, my most treasured mask went MIA. It was one I had made myself using colorfully patterned, old IKEA fabric featuring doe-eyed sisters, and had loose, hanging elastic straps. When I wore the mask, friends and strangers alike would stop me to ask, "Where can I buy that?" So, yeah, it was special for a number of reasons.

Around the same time it went missing, our washing machine went kaput. When the appliance repair person came to service our machine, guess what he found stuck in the motor, torn to shreds? My favorite mask that I made for free (and protected my life) cost me $175. Our repair guy shared that their company had serviced numerous machines this past year due to masks getting caught in washing machines and dryers, and that there was a common factor involved: they were all put in the machines as loose items. The masks' elastic straps and ribbons, even if sewed on both ends, were getting stuck on machinery or sucked into the motor.

Simple solution: use a mesh laundry bag when you put masks in the washing machine — or, of course, handwash and dry your masks. By placing any article of clothing with loose straps or other flourishes in mesh bags, you can help prevent mishaps like mine. Lesson learned.

Find more washer and dyer dos and don'ts here.

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Author and book editor Teena Apeles is a collector of vintage pieces and untold stories. She writes about art, culture, design, activism, and history, and edits books on an even wider range of subjects. She is the founder of the creative collective Narrated Objects, which released the anthology Dear Seller: Real Estate Love Letters from Los Angeles, a unique exploration of the lives and homes of Angelenos, and We Heart L.A. Parks, an artful and interactive travel guide to the city's public parks.

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