Since the beginning of the pandemic, N95 masks have been the gold standard in regards to protection against COVID-19. At that time, people were discouraged from buying them because health care workers desperately needed them. Nowadays, they are readily available and sought after, due to their ability to block more viral particulates than regular cloth or surgical masks, especially when indoors or in crowded areas.
The N95 respirator is the most common of seven types of particulate filtering face respirators. The “95” comes from the fact that it filters 95% of airborne viruses. Due to the increased transmissibility of omicron and the new BA.2 sub-variant, more and more people are upgrading to N95s from regular cloth masks. These masks, however, can be quite expensive, so people want the maximum use out of each one. That applies to people who get them for free or to people who purchase them in bulk.
Can You Reuse An N95 Mask?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can wear an N95 mask up to five times. The number of times you reuse an N95 will depend on where you wear it and how long you wear it. Wearing an N95 mask for brief periods, for example, going to the grocery store or running an errand, can extend the mask’s longevity. Wearing a mask in a crowded indoor environment for a long period of time may require replacement sooner rather than later. Experts also want to note that you should not wear the same mask for five consecutive days.
Over time, masks start to lose their effectiveness, experiencing general wear and tear. Elastic straps can weaken with each wear, which makes it more difficult for the mask to create a protective seal around the face. When there are gaps, it’s easier for unfiltered air to pass through the mask. If you notice that the mask doesn’t fit snugly or the nose wire or straps are damaged, you should discard the mask and wear a new one. The same rule applies if the mass gets dirty, even if you only wore it once or twice. Additionally, you should throw masks out if you regularly cough or sneeze in them.
How To Clean An N95 Mask
In order to keep the mask in good working order, you have to clean the N95 between each wear. This helps to de-germ the mask and even though it sounds complicated, it isn’t. After wearing an N95 mask, store it in a paper bag for five days before wearing it again. This amount of time is sufficient for any virus particulates to die off. You essentially clean the mask by allowing it to air out in a paper bag. It’s very important that you don’t wash an N95 mask with soap and water. That may seem like an effective way to clean the mask, but it can compromise the mask’s integrity, disrupting the electrostatic charge to reduce filtration effectiveness.
Treating An N95 With Heat Or UV Light
According to a paper published in 2020, dry-heat decontamination may be an effective way to clean masks, but only once or twice. Using a UV light to clean an N95 is acceptable three times, but the mask’s fit and filtration become compromised after that. Both the heat and UV light help to zap away viruses, which was beneficial during a mask shortage during 2020. Most experts agree that the paper bag method is a lot easier and less expensive, though.
How To Store N95 Masks
When you aren’t wearing your N95 masks, you should store each one in a separate paper bag, so that they can air out properly. As a general recommendation, you should have three to five masks in your rotation at any given time. Filter new masks into your rotation as you needed.