How many times can N95 masks be reused?

key takeaways

  • N95 respirators provide excellent protection against the COVID-19 Omicron variant – better than other types of face shields. However, reusable N95s are expensive, and the cost of replacing disposable masks can add up quickly.
  • There are simple, safe steps you can take to decontaminate your mask between uses so you can wear it longer.
  • It’s also important to know the signs that it’s time to change your face covering.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not officially recommended that the public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from the Omicron variant of COVID-19. But research shows that N95 masks are much better at protecting you from the coronavirus than cloth and surgical masks.

One reason N95s are so effective is that respirators must be tested to show they can capture at least 95 percent of airborne particles. Other types of face shields catch less than this value, which means they offer less protection.

Buying single-use N95 masks and throwing them away after each use is expensive. If you have several N95s on hand, you may be wondering if you need to throw them out or clean them regularly.

Here’s what experts say about how long you can safely reuse N95 respirators, how to extend the life of your N95, evidence-based methods for mask decontamination, and signs it’s time to replace your mask.

Free N95 masks

The U.S. Strategic National Stockpile is distributing free N95 masks to the public. You can get an N95 for free at most large pharmacy chains.

The correct way to wear N95 masks

How long can I wear the N95?

How long you can use an N95 respirator depends on several factors, including the manufacturer’s specifications and how long you wear the mask.

Devabhaktuni Srikrishna, an air quality engineer and founder of Patient Knowhow, told VigorTip that “seal failure is the most important factor” when replacing N95 respirators because “seals fail faster than filters” and once you lose the seal, the air will in and out. ”

Signs of an ill-fitting mask include straps that aren’t securely in place or leaks around the respirator.

Over time, the electrostatic charge of the trapped particles also weakens. As you continue to wear the mask, the N95 filter captures more and more particles from the air. The longer you wear it, the harder it will be to breathe through the respirator. This is another sign that it’s time to change your respirator.

A January study by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that N95 can be used up to 25 times before it stops working. However, for the average consumer, this number may be on the high side. Researchers were able to decontaminate the masks with vaporized hydrogen peroxide between uses — something you can’t do at home.

Some N95 respirators last longer than others. They have filters that the wearer can change from time to time. However, these masks are not always a cost-effective option for people who do not need to wear an N95 continuously.

3M N95 Guide

3M, the manufacturer of N95s, recently released guidance on reusing masks:

  • N95 respirators can be reused until they become dirty, damaged, or difficult to breathe. You should check your respirator before each use.
  • If the straps or nose clips are broken, they should be torn, soiled, or otherwise damaged, then you should throw them away.
  • Always wash your hands before and after using a respirator.

How to Properly Double a Mask

How can I decontaminate my N95 mask?

The easiest way to decontaminate a mask is to keep it in a dark, dry place between uses.

To protect the filter, Srikrishna says, “it’s better to keep the respirator in the dark (such as a brown paper bag) than in the sun,” because bright sunlight can break down filter particles.

Srikrishna recommends that you have several masks ready to be replaced. This way, you don’t have to wear one mask for days on end. According to Srikrishna, “Rotation dries out the mask and kills bacteria and viruses.”

The evidence does not support washing N95 respirators, spraying them with disinfectant, or throwing them in the dryer.

Likewise, putting the N95 in the microwave won’t work. It can also be dangerous if the mask has a metal nose bridge or staples.

what does this mean to you

N95 masks can be reused multiple times as long as you understand the best practices for reusing N95 masks.

To learn more about the latest research on reuse of N95 respirators, visit the N95Decon public resources page.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.