Wash - iron - before use
December 13, 2020 4:00 AM   Subscribe

I just bought a new mask manufactured by this company. On the front of the package there's a sticker that says "wash - iron - before use". I'm neurodivergent and find it really challenging to follow instructions that I don't understand the reasoning behind. Neither the packaging nor the website explain why I'm supposed to wash and iron the mask before use. Frankly I'd rather not if I don't actually have to - but I don't understand why I might have to or not enough to make that call myself.

Two questions, really:

1) What's the reasoning behind washing & ironing the mask before use, and does this mean "before first use" or is it more of a "here's how you care for the mask between use" kind of instruction?

2) Do I actually have to? I will wash the mask between uses, but I'd prefer not to have to wash and iron it before first use if I don't have to, and I'd prefer not to iron it at all unless doing so is somehow necessary to the safe function of the mask.

I guess I can't tell if this is one of those generic "you should wash new clothes before you wear them" type of instructions (which I sometimes do and sometimes don't depending on how much energy I have and how weird the item smells new) or if it's actually a process that's necessary for the mask to function properly.

I'm not really looking for "eww of course you should wash it before you put it next to your face, you don't know who's touched it/where it's been sitting in a warehouse" type of advice because that's not how my particular brand of contamination anxiety works and everyone has different boundaries on this stuff. I just want to know if there's a reason beyond garden-variety "yeah you should probably wash stuff before you wear it" why this was printed as an instruction on the packaging (without any further details about why I should do it!).

Also on the tiny offchance any product packaging/communication type people are reading this, for the love of god please be a little more specific in your instructions sometimes, or at least tell me why; someone with a brain like mine can burn whole days worrying about dumb shit like this that could have been clarified in one sentence.
posted by terretu to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I wear reusable cloth masks all day at work, and I've noticed a pattern of sinus irritation if I wear a new mask for long periods before washing it. I assume there's some residual something or other left over from the fabric manufacturing process.

Ironing is probably just a cosmetic suggestion.
posted by jon1270 at 4:19 AM on December 13, 2020 [7 favorites]

(For the same reason, avoid heavily scented laundry detergent. I made the mistake once of using Tide Sport Odor Defense on a load that included masks. Hoo boy, you do not want to have that wrapped around your face for hours at a time.)
posted by jon1270 at 4:24 AM on December 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

I think it’s just generic “wash newly mass produced things” direction, probably with a flavor of being on the safe side because of COVID. The ironing would probably just be so whatever creases are in it are crisp again but it’s not super likely that that’s actually a functional thing. I would be annoyed with a mask design that actually needed ironing each time to stay comfortable/usable.
posted by brilliantine at 4:42 AM on December 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

The general advice of washing new, mass-produced clothing before wearing is due to needing to remove sizing from the fabric. Some sizing is toxic and, while the amounts are not lethal, the common-sense approach has been to wash it out prior to wear. This is especially true when the fabric is mass produced and/or if the article is something you'll breathe through.

The advice to iron after washing is probably because sizing helps fabric keep its shape. Because masks are most effective when worn correctly, the mask's creases and angles may need to be ironed back to make it as comfortable and effective as intended.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:43 AM on December 13, 2020 [39 favorites]

I can't know for sure, but if the company didn't pre-wash the fabric before making masks, it may still have sizing or formaldehyde residue in it, which keeps it from wrinkling during printing. This is one thing in a t-shirt, but in a mask you're breathing through is really unlikely to be good for you, so they're asking you to wash it before wearing. I would definitely do this.

Depending on the fabric, it could come out the wash all wrinkled, hence the ironing. Ironing also helps the seam lie flat if its one of those with a seam down the middle. Not necessary, just might make it fit a bit better or more comfortably.
(On preview, jinx!)
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:44 AM on December 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Some fabric items are treated with a chemicals, notably formaldehyde resins before being shipped out. This is to stop mould from growing on those fabrics.

These chemicals can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 4:45 AM on December 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

I use cotton cloth masks that I make at home. I launder and iron them after each use. The masks are stored in a drawer, and the fact that they are ironed is a reminder-signal that, yes, these masks are clean and ready for use.

To add to what several have said here, wrinkly masks don't fit well and are likely to be uncomfortable. Also, your aesthetic mileage may vary, but to me, an unironed mask looks a bit disreputable. If I see one on somebody, I wonder if it's clean? How long have they been wearing that thing? Is it saturated with virus?? Should I run away now? (I'm not normally a germophobe, but these are not normal times.)
posted by Weftage at 4:49 AM on December 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

I can't speak as to this particular manufacturer's thought process, but I've been making masks (mostly in the early stages of the pandemic) and that's similar to what I recommended. (I think I noted ironing was optional.) My thoughts were:

-Wash because while I don't *think* I had COVID-19 while making the mask, I have no way of being sure. So I want everyone to wash their mask before wear. (I also did one final wash before packaging because I was pretty sure some people wouldn't, but I still handled it after that final wash.)

As others have noted, more professionally-produced masks may also have sizing, fumigation chemicals, etc. that need to be removed before use. This wasn't an issue for me as I pre-washed all fabrics to pre-shrink them and improve the final fit. However, if I were buying a mask of that type, I would 100% wash it for this reason. Note that this doesn't apply to the disposable procedure masks, KN-95s, etc. because those are intended to be worn directly out of the packaging.

-Iron because woven cotton is WRINKLY, and the mask looks better and may fit better ironed. Also, ironing is one last ditch heating event that would kill off any corona that might have made it through the wash. (Again: this was March. We didn't know much. I saw one mask-making effort around this time that required that anyone donating wear a mask the full time they worked on assembling the mask and sanitize their sewing machine's needle.)

As someone who now knows more about COVID-19, I'd say you *do* need to wash the mask before use. I'd consider ironing optional, though. If it comes out of the wash wrinkled, it can be worth it, but if it washes well (or you don't care and it fits well enough un-ironed), there's unlikely to be a difference in your potential exposures or how effective the mask is based on not ironing it.
posted by pie ninja at 5:18 AM on December 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

They have a live chat support button on the website as well as a phone number and email address. Why not ask them? They might have reasoning or they might be reusing packaging from their sportswear.
posted by chasles at 5:35 AM on December 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

A lot of the plastic packaging used for items like these is made from oil industry derived plastics that are known to off-gass a variety of unpleasant chemicals. This is not just a theoretical risk, you will often be able to smell the difference before and after laundering.
posted by Lanark at 5:48 AM on December 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would considering washing mandatory but ironing optional, depending on how it comes out of the wash. I went on a spree earlier this year and bought about a dozen masks from different companies to try to find the right ones for my household. About half of them came out of the wash incredibly wrinkled, and that definitely messes with the fit. The fit is extra important to me because I have glasses and lens fogging is a serious issue that can be somewhat mitigated by a really good fit. The best masks for me are pleated, though, and this can be tricky to iron! I have taken to smoothing them as best I can and weighting them down flat with stuff like stacks of clothes or even the bottom of a full laundry basket. Usually this works well enough.
posted by Mizu at 5:50 AM on December 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone - I'm down with not breathing in formaldehyde, even if I don't seriously believe I'm likely to encounter SARS-CoV-2 fomites in something that's sat in a warehouse sealed for at least 72 hours due to shipping delays, so I'll wash it before wearing (although the packaging also suggests hand wash only at 90°C and I have no idea how to do that without scalding my hands; a question for another day perhaps).

I'm not down with ironing, so I most likely won't iron it unless it absolutely needs it after washing. It's a fairly big mask compared to my size of my face so I'm reasonably confident it'll still fit where it needs to after washing even if crinkled (and the material feels like the kind of sportswear that doesn't really crinkle much), but let's see.
posted by terretu at 5:54 AM on December 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

You put it in a bowl and stir it with a spoon. Hand wash recommendations don't mean use only your living human hands to the exclusion of all other things, it means don't use a machine.

That said, I put all of my hand wash and dry clean only things on my machine's gentle cycle and so far the laundry police have never come to arrest me. (I am fine looking like a rumpled mess all the time though; your preferences may vary.)
posted by phunniemee at 6:21 AM on December 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

To talk about the ironing aspect, I have never ironed a mask. I wash them in a mesh bag in the regular cycle, using unscented/hypoallergenic detergent, and then just reshape/smooth down the pleats while they are wet and air dry, or if I'm in a hurry or feel like using the dryer then I keep them in the mesh bag in the dryer, and after I remove them I reshape and weight them down as needed, like Mizu does. (I do own an iron, but very rarely iron anything.)
posted by gudrun at 6:47 AM on December 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

The mask you linked to is made of 100% polyester. It shouldn't require ironing at all to be smooth/wrinkle-free. I'm guessing this was the "sanitize with steam" idea.
posted by XtineHutch at 7:22 AM on December 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wash new masks when I get them and after wear by hand with Dawn. I made the mistake once of using a scented laundry detergent, don t do that. I never heard of ironing masks and do not iron anything any more.
posted by mermayd at 7:31 AM on December 13, 2020

I have a big jar in the kitchen that used masks go in. I add detergent and hot water, shake well and let sit a few times, then drain, add more hot water, shake well and let sit a few times, drain, rinse, hang to dry on the oven handle. The washing is an approximation of a washing machine, takes little time or effort. I set up the ironing to iron fabric for a project that's done, and now there are other projects on it, and ironing is highly unlikely.

Ironing applies heat, which might make a mask slightly more sterile, that's not a requirement for my needs, as I think washing is sufficient.
posted by theora55 at 8:11 AM on December 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

I wouldn’t take temperature suggestions on care labels as the temperature that the item has to be washed in; they’re just stating the maximum temperature that the fabric can handle. It’s fine to wash in cooler water, just don’t go above 90 C or the fabric will likely melt. The “only” in that sentence is referring to “hand wash only” and you would be fine washing at a cooler temperature. Signed, a former avid thrift shopper who learned the hard way about when not to ignore labels on clothing.
posted by corey flood at 8:35 AM on December 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Don't iron it, it's polyester and will most likely not need to be ironed to be smooth. If you do decide to iron make sure to set your iron for polyester or you might melt it and cause a fire.
posted by mareli at 10:46 AM on December 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Like gudrun, I wash my cloth masks regularly and don't iron them. As long as I smooth them out before putting them on the rack to dry, they're fine and don't have wrinkles.

And a tip I learned the tedious way: if you're using masks that tie behind the head (instead of having loops over the ears), use a delicates/lingerie bag if you put them in the washing machine. "It's a small washer, and gentle!" I thought. "I don't need to put these in the delicates bag." And then once the washer was done I had to spend 15 minutes unpicking knots in damp straps while quietly cursing under my breath.
posted by Lexica at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Soap kills Covid by breaking its capsule apart; heat is not required for that. If you want to kill other bacteria the 90C heat would certainly do it, but won't do polyester many favours, let alone any elastic bits. Ironing similarly, you can't use really high heat on polyester without it melting, so as a sanitising measure it's not great. Also, if every scarf I ever wore over my face required a boil wash and iron to not kill me, I would be dead many times over.

I would soak in hand hot soapy water then try and drop or flat dry in its natural shape so that ironing was not required. Ironing sucks.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:00 PM on December 15, 2020

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