How to properly wear an N95 mask

key takeaways

  • Every adult can get three free N95 masks at your local pharmacy or community health center.
  • Before you wear your N95, please pay attention to specific fit and usage guidelines.
  • The N95 is designed for single use.

Last week, the Biden administration announced it would make N95 masks available for free through pharmacies and community health centers.

N95 respirators are more protective against COVID-19 than other masks on the market, they filter out 95% of airborne particles.

The Definitive Guide to Masks

However, in order for the N95 to work as intended, it needs to be worn correctly. Some health care professionals worry that the public has not received enough guidance on N95 use.

Dina Velocci, DNP, CRNA, APRN, president of the American Academy of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA), told VigorTip that for optimal protection, more education on proper N95 use is needed.

Wearing an N95 requires more attention to detail than a cloth or surgical mask. Here’s how to put it on and off properly:

Install the N95

Always wash your hands before putting on or taking off a mask. To put on the N95, first place it in your hand with the nosepiece at your fingertips. Cover your mouth and nose with a mask, with the bridge of your nose up.

The N95 has two straps that go through the back of your head — kind of like goggles — rather than wrapping around your ears. Pull the strap over your head. The top strap should be placed over the back of the head and the bottom strap should be under the ears and around the neck. Make sure the straps don’t cross.

make sure it fits

You also need to make sure the mask fits. Check the seal and do a smell or smell test.

NOTE: This should be the last time you touch the mask. Do not touch after fixing or when removing.

User Seal Check

After wearing the mask, it should form a seal with your face. This means that there should be no gap between your face and the respirator.

Put your hands on the N95 and inhale and exhale quickly to see if you feel a leak. If there is leakage around the nose, adjust the nosepiece. Adjust the shoulder straps if you feel air leaking from the edges of the mask.

Odor/Odor Test

Feel and look alone may not be enough to ensure a fit. Health authorities recommend additional smell or smell testing.

In the test, a substance with a strong odor was sprayed into the air. If you can smell or taste it through your mask, then your mask isn’t quite the right fit. You can do a DIY fit test at home with a scented spray like Febreze, says Velocci.

“You shouldn’t smell that in your mask,” she said. Febreze isn’t the best option for testing, but it’s a common household product that can be used if a better alternative isn’t available, she added.

Rigorous Fit Test

In a healthcare setting, OSHA recommends spraying substances such as saccharin, an artificial sweetener used to make Sweet’n Low. To use saccharin as a test, you need to dissolve the substance in boiling water, then use a nebulizer to turn the liquid into a mist. You can find fit test kits online with saccharin and nebulizers, but they tend to be expensive.

Facial hair may prevent you from properly placing your N95. In this case, an odor or smell test can help determine if your mask is tight.

Putting on and taking off N95

When putting on or putting on and taking off the mask, be careful not to touch the mask. N95s are designed for single use, so ideally you should replace them after each use.

To remove the N95, hold the shoulder straps, not the mask itself. Pull the bottom strap over your head first, then to the top. If possible, discard the mask immediately.

If you have to reuse the mask, you can put it on a clean surface, such as a new sheet of aluminum foil on the countertop, Velocci said. You can spray with disinfectant and let it dry, but it’s not recommended, she added.

“It’s the best you can do,” Welloch said. “It’s against our policy to reuse it. It’s not what we’ve done for years. We’re only doing it now because we have limited resources.”

“Wash your hands between everything,” she added. “Think everything is polluted.”

Early in the pandemic, when N95s were in short supply, some researchers also recommended sterilizing N95s in a rice cooker, such as the Instant Pot, for 50 minutes.

For the most specific guidance on how to wear and handle a mask, check the mask manufacturer’s instructions.

what does this mean to you

If you plan to wear an N95 mask, be sure to pass the fit test to learn how to properly handle and wear the mask.

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.