Here’s How Often You Need to Clean Your Eye Mask for Irritation-Free Beauty Sleep

Photo: Getty Images/Seb Oliver
When you want to settle into a deep, rejuvenating slumber, you can reach for essential oils, some melatonin, or your sound machine. But people often sleep on (pun intended) the easiest option of all: a trusty eye mask that sends you straight into relaxation-mode the instant you slide it on. There’s truly only one downside. If you don’t learn how to clean eye mask properly, you might not get the beauty perks a good night of sleep promises.

Luckily, caring for the bedside staple is a breeze when you have the right tools on hand. Keep reading for the best sleep eye mask care and cleaning tips that will leave you catching all the zzz's (and keep your skin irritation-free while doing so).

Experts In This Article

The benefits of sleep masks

Now, let's get one thing straight: Eye masks aren't just a cutesy Breakfast at Tiffany's-style accessory. There are also plenty of sleep mask benefits to get excited about, making it one of the best sleep products you can buy. (Compared to all the high-cost sleep tech, it’s also one of the most affordable.)

The main perk of wearing an eye mask is its ability to block out light, which triggers the body to produce more melatonin, making you feel extra sleepy. (Take this Manta sleep mask review, for example, which says it’s like having a set of blackout curtains for your eyes.) And because they offer total darkness, they help fight off the negative physiological and psychological effects of light, whether you live in a bright city or have a partner who reads with a bedside lamp into the wee hours of the morning.

"Wearing an eye mask when sleeping prevents exposure to light at inappropriate times, which can disrupt our circadian rhythms,” Vivek Jain, MD, director of the GW Sleep Disorders Center, previously told Well+Good. This is especially great for light sleepers. “Different people are differently sensitive to light exposure, both in terms of intensity and timing, therefore, it works best for super sensitive folks.”

That’s not all. A small 2010 study published in the journal Critical Care found eye masks, in combination with ear plugs, can give you more REM time, less arousal, and elevated melatonin levels. The pressure of the mask against your eyes can also send a signal to your brain to relax, which could help you fall asleep faster. The benefits don’t just apply to nighttime, though: A 2022 study published in the journal Sleep found wearing an eye mask overnight can also facilitate new learning and alertness the following day.

With all this good, can sleep masks damage eyes? Experts say there's no harm in using one so long as it's not too tight and is kept clean using proper sleep mask maintenance. (Hygienic sleep accessories for the win!)

Why sleep masks might affect your skin (if you’re not careful)

Unfortunately, using a sleep mask can come with one downside. “In some cases, wearing an eye mask can lead to breakouts or skin irritation,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. That goes for all varieties. No matter the type you choose, the build-up of natural oil from your skin, bacteria, and sweat is inevitable. That's why cleaning eye masks often is a must.

But while learning how to wash a sleep eye mask is crucial when it comes to sleep hygiene, it’s also important to be picky about the material you choose to sit on your skin all night. “If you have sensitive skin, it may be best to avoid polyester, as it may be irritating,” says Dr. Garshick. There’s also cotton, memory foam, satin, and silk—the latter of which is her top pick. “In general, silk may be best for someone looking to help with fine lines and wrinkles, as it minimizes friction on the skin,” she says.

If you run hot when you sleep, Dr. Garshick says to opt for a fabric that keeps you cool. “This minimizes the potential for sweat build-up,” she says. Bamboo is a great pick, which has natural temperature-regulating and moisture-wicking properties.

How often to wash a sleep eye mask

Each individual sleep mask typically comes with its own set of eye mask fabric care instructions, but Dr. Garshick’s general guidance? “An eye mask should be cleaned a few times per week to minimize the chance of skin reactions or breakouts,” she says.

Of course, everyone’s skin needs are different, so how often to wash a sleep eye mask varies. If you're noticing itchiness, breakouts, or irritation, you may need a clean eye mask daily or every couple of days. To save you time (and water!), that might mean buying a few different sleep masks and washing them at the end of the week.

Even though you might have to do a little extra laundry, it'll be more than worth it. By using an eye mask, you'll sleep better at night and feel more energized during the day.

Cleaning eye masks, step by step

1. Check the care instructions

Before you do anything, be sure to read the eye mask fabric care instructions. Depending on the material, your mask may have very specific rules to follow, and ignoring them could cause damage. For example, most memory foam eye masks can't be washed, period—only spot cleaned. And if you’re trying to figure out how to wash a silk eye mask, you need to be extra gentle.

Most washable sleep masks recommend hand-washing over machine-washing, as the fabric tends to be delicate and can wear out quickly without proper care. However, if you choose to machine-wash, do so using the delicate cycle and always put the sleep mask in a mesh wash bag (just like you'd wash other delicate items, like your bras) then allow it to air-dry.

2. Fill the sink with soapy, lukewarm water

To prepare for hand-washing, fill your sink with lukewarm water. Then Dr. Garshick’s best sleep eye mask care and cleaning tip is to add a small amount of a detergent—one that’s gentle enough for cleaning eye masks but is still effective at sanitizing sleep gear. “It’s best to use a gentle detergent that’s fragrance-free and won’t lead to skin irritation, such as All Free Clear,” she says. Swish the water around to create a soapy solution

3. Submerge the eye mask

The next step in how to wash a sleep eye mask is to submerge it and allow it to soak for a few minutes. This will give it time to loosen up any dirt or oils that may be clinging onto it, ensuring you’re using hygienic sleep accessories that won’t irritate your skin.

4. Rinse out the suds

Gently rinse the eye mask with lukewarm water until all of the soap residue is gone. A key aspect of eye mask fabric care is to avoid wringing the material. Improper sleep mask maintenance can damage the eye mask or cause it to lose its shape.

5. Allow the eye mask to air-dry

Set your eye mask flat on a clean, dry towel to dry. Place a second towel on top of it and gently press down to absorb any excess water. Once it’s completely dry, it's ready to use. Or, store it in a clean and dry environment for later.

Frequently asked questions

How often should I clean my sleep mask?

Sleep mask maintenance is key for good skin health. So how often do you wash a sleep eye mask? According to Dr. Garshick, washable sleep masks should generally be cleaned a few times a week in order to avoid any negative skin reactions (like irritation or acne). With that being said, those with extra sensitive skin may need to wash their eye mask more frequently. If that’s the case for you, you can purchase multiple eye masks and wash them in batches to make your life easier.

Can sleep masks harbor bacteria if not cleaned regularly?

Yes, sleep masks can harbor bacteria that can lead to irritation, breakouts, or other skin-related issues. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to wash a sleep eye mask properly. “It’s important to remember that these masks should be washed regularly given they’re in prolonged contact with the face, so it’s best to find one that can be washed easily,” says Dr. Garshick.

How does cleaning a sleep mask improve sleep hygiene?

Even if you wash your face before bed, your sleep mask is still going to accumulate bacteria, oils, and dirt. If you’re not sanitizing sleep gear and continue putting that sleep mask on your face night after night, you could wind up with irritation, acne, and other skin issues. Following Dr. Garshick's recommendation of cleaning your sleep mask at least a few times a week can help with sleep hygiene and maintaining good skin health. Just like putting clean sheets on your bed, there's nothing better than sliding on a clean eye mask.

Are all sleep masks machine washable?

No, not all sleep masks are machine-washable. In fact, many sleep mask brands recommend that you avoid the washing machine altogether, making it hard to find hygienic sleep accessories. For example, if you’re trying to figure out how to clean a heated eye mask, most brands recommend spot-cleaning. The same goes for memory foam. Or maybe you’re learning how to wash a silk eye mask where hand-washing is preferred. So if you have easily irritated skin, ensure you’re purchasing washable sleep masks that you can clean using the instructions above.

What is the best method to wash a sleep mask?

The best sleep eye mask care and cleaning tip is to avoid the washing machine, which doesn’t just damage the fabric, but also causes it to lose its shape and softness. When you’re sanitizing sleep gear, choose to hand-wash with a gentle, fragrance-free detergent.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Hu, Rong-fang et al. “Effects of earplugs and eye masks on nocturnal sleep, melatonin and cortisol in a simulated intensive care unit environment.” Critical care (London, England) vol. 14,2 (2010): R66. doi:10.1186/cc8965
  2. Greco, Viviana et al. “Wearing an eye mask during overnight sleep improves episodic learning and alertness.” Sleep vol. 46,3 (2023): zsac305. doi:10.1093/sleep/zsac305

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