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How To Safely Reuse N95 Masks: Expert Explains

| Reviewed By Arya Krishnan

Face masks offer protection against respiratory infections for health care workers and the general public and reduce community transmission, making masks one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.

N95s and other respirator masks are more protective than most cloth face masks and are the most commonly used type of masks. However, these disposable respirator masks are a bit costlier, and throwing them out after single use would add up.

Health experts around the globe have said that the N95 masks could be reused if used in the right manner [1]. However, as masks have become a norm (since a long time ago), it is best to know how you can use one - that is, staying safe and healthy without burning a hole in your pocket.

Today, Dr Arya Krishna, Doctor at NHS UK, will provide her expert insight into if and how N95 masks can be reused.

How To Safely Reuse N95 Masks?

Respirators, also called N95 respirator masks, are specially designed to protect against germs in the air, like viruses. It covers your face to prevent airborne viruses from entering through the nose or mouth and is much more effective at preventing the virus than regular face masks [2].

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the N95 masks were only used by persons caring for sick persons with respiratory infections and symptoms such as cough, sneezing and fever, and health care and frontline workers. However, that has changed since [3].

When reusing the N95 respirator, leave a used mask in the dry atmosphere for 3-4 days to dry it out.
As the polypropylene in N95 is hydrophobic and contains zero moisture, the coronavirus, which needs a host to survive, will not be able to survive if the respirator is dry for 3-4 hours [4]. You can also leave the masks in a paper bag to dry out.

Is It Safe To Reuse Masks Right Now, Considering How Infectious Omicron Variants Are?

When used the right way, yes, reusing a mask safe, said Dr Arya. Regardless of the different variants, masks work by trapping virus-containing particles in their layers. Additionally, you're less likely to catch the coronavirus by touching an infected surface since it's transmitted mostly through breathing. Thus, you should handle your masks carefully, touching only the elastics, and wash your hands afterwards.

What If My Mask Gets Wet?

Moisture degrades the mask slowly, even from your breath. This process may be sped up if you wear the mask while working out at the gym or if you're in a humid environment.

If your mask becomes wet from condensation from breathing, you can reuse it. If you place the masks in a dry spot, ideally by a sunny window, the process of viral deactivation may be enhanced. Get rid of your mask if it gets wet - like getting caught in the rain [5].

Can I Wash My Mask Or Disinfect It With Bleach Or Alcohol?

No. Wetting the mask or cleaning it with soap can damage the material. Additionally, you shouldn't attempt to disinfect your used mask with alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or other chemicals.

According to studies, treating a disposable face mask with alcohol reduces the mask's integrity and, therefore, its filtration efficiency. Bleach or other disinfectant is also a bad idea because, in addition to damaging the mask, you don't want to breathe in any disinfectant that remains on the respirator [6].

When Should I Throw Out The N95 Mask?

According to CDC guidelines, a disposable N95 mask should be discarded after five uses [6]. However, those guidelines were intended for healthcare workers, pointed out Dr Arya. For everyone else, that may not be necessary.

If the elastic bands on a mask continue to provide a secure fit and if the mask looks clean and offers good airflow, the mask is still wearable. The filter eventually becomes clogged with dust, pollen, air pollutants, makeup, skin oils, and inactivated viruses.

Take note of where you've worn the mask and how long you've worn it. Suppose you wear your mask every day on the bus, train, or metro - in that case, you may need to throw it out sooner than someone who only wears it occasionally to the grocery store.

Change your mask if it is dirty, thinning, damaged, hard to breathe through, or does not maintain a good seal.

Step-by-Step Method To Reusing N95 Masks

N95 Mask Reuse Method

Leave a used respirator in dry, atmosphere air for 3-4 days to dry it out. Polypropylene in N95 masks is hydrophobic and contains zero moisture [7].

COVID-19 needs a host to survive. The virus can survive on a metal surface for up to 48 hours, on plastic for 72 hours, and on cardboard for 24 hours. However, when the respirator is dry for 3-4 days, the virus wouldn't be able to survive on that surface.

  • Take four N95 masks, and number them (as 1-4)
  • On day 1, use mask #1, then let it dry out for 3-4 days
  • On day 2, use mask #2, then let it dry out for 3-4 days
  • Follow the same for day three and day four

On A Final Note...

You should dispose of a mask away if you've been in a place where high virus exposure is expected - for instance, if you've been interacting with a person who is COVID-positive.

Arya KrishnanEmergency Medicine
Arya Krishnan
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