Motherhood has always meant ensuring our kids have shoes that fit, pants that stay up, and foods they’ll (hopefully) eat in their lunchboxes as our children head back to school. As temps drop, many of us will start winter coat shopping and invest in extra gloves because they always lose one (in my house, it’s always the right hand, leaving us with a bag of matchless, left-handed gloves), and they might even need snow pants and snow boots if your family lives far enough north.
But once 2020 hit and the world changed forever, we parents had a new item added to our list of “must-haves” for ourselves and for our kids—high quality, comfortable masks that we can wear for long periods of time (for our kids, that means all day at school). And with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that–due to the latest Delta Variant surge and the fact that young kids still can’t be vaccinated—everyone over two years old still wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status, it sounds like masks aren’t going away anytime soon.
Obviously every company from Amazon to Old Navy as well as smaller shops on Etsy have hopped onto the mask trend, all claiming that theirs are the “most comfortable!” and “most durable!” and “most likely to protect you from this horrid infectious disease!” so how do we choose? We all know that kids are picky AF. What works for one kid won’t work for another, and once we do find a good, quality mask that fits perfectly, we also need to know how to properly care for it—how often should it be washed? Can we toss it in with the rest of our clothes? Does it need to be hand-washed? Can it go in the dryer?
So yeah, properly outfitting our kids in the right masks has become the latest parenting stress, so here are some tips on how to choose the right one and care for it properly.
What kind to buy…
First off, when choosing a mask, it’s crucial that parents pick one(s) that their kids will actually wear for long periods of time. Mom and Dad can rush out and buy the fanciest, most expensive, most high-tech N95 mask on the market, but if little Johnny rips it off 26 times a day, it’s pointless.
“The most effective mask is a mask a child will wear and fits them properly,” explains Eric Toner, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “That’s much more important than the filtration characteristics between the three different kinds of masks.”
With that said, if your child tends to tolerate most masks fine, then yes, there is a difference how different masks filter out incoming Covid particles. The Washington Post interviewed some experts who say that to fight this brutal Delta variant that seems to be hitting kids pretty hard, a double-layered cloth mask or surgical mask offer “the best balance between wearability and protection.” (And, the article clarifies that to check and see if your cloth mask is double-layered, you can try to pull apart the separate layers to opposite ends, as if it were a double-layered blanket.)
While some experts say kids are not likely to tolerate N95 masks, as they tend to be uncomfortable, parents may still want the extra security they offer. This spreadsheet provided by mechanical engineer Aaron Collins offers a breakdown of efficacy, age range, whether the straps are adjustable, images, and links to buy various children’s masks that offer high filtration levels.
But again, the experts interviewed for this WashPo article as well as the CDC emphasize that fit and comfort are paramount as those factors are far more likely to foster cooperation in kids who need to wear them all day long at school. In addition, the CDC reiterates that a comfortable, double-layered cloth mask that fits snugly and covers the nose and mouth is still an effective way to protect your child from Covid-19.
Next up is mask care. Do you know how to properly ensure your children’s masks are clean? According to the CDC, we should wash their reusable masks “whenever they get dirty, or at least daily.”
In our house, when the kids hop off the bus, they come inside, throw their masks directly into the washing machine, and wash their hands right away. This way, dirty masks are immediately sanitized and will be ready go back into the “clean mask bin” we keep by their backpacks for the before-school-rush the next day.
Basically, don’t keep sending your child with the same cloth mask over and over without washing it. They’re not properly protected, nor are they properly protecting others, if they’re wearing a dirty mask to school or out in the community.
How should we wash them? Is there a specific method we need to use to make sure they are sanitized? The CDC says no. Simply washing dirty masks with the rest of your laundry or hand-washing them with detergent or soap and rinsing them thoroughly is perfectly acceptable. And, they can be tossed in the dryer or hung up to air-dry too—whatever works for you. JUST WASH THEM.
Also, another important thing to remember (and for our kids to remember) is to wash or sanitize our hands after removing our soiled masks for the day, or to eat, or even just to take a mask break at recess. Basically, any time we touch our masks, we need to wash our hands. Keeping our hands clean is just as important as mask-wearing in combatting Covid-19.
Key things to remember…
So that’s really it, folks. Those are the basics in mask-buying and mask-care. Double-layered cloth masks are fine for kids. So are N95s—it all depends on comfort and cooperation from your child. Make sure they cover their nose and mouth snugly. Try out a few different options and let your child choose the one that is most comfortable, as long as it fits properly. Wash them every afternoon when they got home from school, and have them wash their hands after touching their masks as well.
And finally, commend your kids for doing their part to stop the spread. For being responsible citizens. And for being tough and strong and proving that they can do hard things. The kids are alright, parents. They got this.