Dos and Don'ts for Post-pandemic Masks

Michael D. Miller, MD


March 22, 2022

With the apparent waning of the COVID pandemic, people may be wondering what to do with the masks they've acquired over the past 2 years, including cloth masks, which for many months have not been recommended to prevent transmission of the COVID-causing virus.

Because it is certainly possible that another variant will arise, clinicians should advise patients (and family and friends) to keep any unused, high-quality masks (eg, N95 or KN95) and store them in a dry, cool, safe place. Those masks will certainly be good to have if someone develops an immunosuppressing condition that puts them at higher risk for any sort of respiratory infection.

For the rest of those masks, rather than tossing them in the trash, here are some suggestions.


  • Use them when doing things in dusty/musty unfinished basements, attics, or garages. Dust, fungi, or other things that might be floating around such places — or stirred up by cleaning or moving things stored there — are much bigger than the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Therefore, those old, used, or less protective masks will be of benefit and can help prevent triggering allergies, asthma, or other respiratory ailments.

  • Use them when gardening or mowing the lawn if you have allergies or asthma triggered by pollen, etc. Just like cleaning the attic or basement, cloth or older paper masks can help block out much of the dust or pollen in the air. (I've lived in places where the pollen can be so thick that it turns the cars yellow.)

  • Wear them while cutting onions. (I've heard that doing this prevents the onion chemicals from reaching your nose and causing the eyes to tear up.)

  • Take a lot of high-quality cotton masks and turn them into a decorative quilt, pillow, or wall-hanging commemorating the COVID pandemic and what it meant to you and your family. This could be a good way to remind future generations that ignoring science and public health can have serious personal, social, and economic consequences.

  • Recycle them if you can. Opportunities for recycling PPE are beginning to be made available, so if you have that option, please consider it.


  • Burn them. While some people may want to have an "end-of-COVID" bonfire celebration that includes burning masks, because many of the masks are made from synthetic materials, burning them could give off noxious smoke.

  • Give them a "Viking funeral." Putting them on a wooden raft or in a cardboard box, lighting it on fire, and pushing it out to sea (or a pond, lake, or river) will probably just lead to more pollution. And if they don't fully burn, the residue could either wash up someplace or the indigestible plastic straps could be eaten by an animal.

  • Toss them in the yard to be used as hammocks by the local wildlife. While squirrels can be very ingenious, encouraging them to get more relaxed in your backyard isn't a good idea. (I also don't think they like lying on their backs.)

And finally, clinicians and others who work in healthcare facilities (including nursing homes and rehabilitation centers) should continue to use appropriate masks (eg, N95s) — to protect themselves and the patients — according to personal risk factors, and local public health and facility recommendations and requirements.

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About Dr Michael D. Miller
For more than 30 years, Michael D. Miller, MD has been working with large and small companies, government organizations, and patient advocates to improve access and affordability for treatments and innovations. His work has spanned many clinical, scientific, and policy areas, including autoimmune diseases, behavioral health, cancer, cell/gene therapies, diabetes, patents, reimbursements, and vaccines. He graduated from Williams College and Yale Medical School, has served on several nonprofit boards, and has spoken across the country on critical healthcare issues.

Connect with him on Twitter @HealthPolCom and on his website.


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