Somewhere around March of 2020, the world was declared to be in a state of a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and since then our knowledge of protective equipment has increased exponentially. N-95 masks are just one example of this. There has been a massive difference between how these masks were used before the pandemic and how they are perceived now.
Why Choose an N95 Mask?
An N95 mask essentially qualifies as a respirator. Respirators are different from regular 3-ply surgical masks. While wearing a surgical mask is necessary for everyone, N95 respirators are still intended to be used by health workers mainly, frontline workers or otherwise. This is mainly because of their increased exposure to the virus and other micro-level threats.
It is more protective than a surgical mask because it fits the face closely, forming a seal around the nose and the mouth. This is also why it is more difficult to breathe while wearing an N95 mask.
Lastly, some of these masks come with exhalation valves to make it easier to breathe. Even though these valves are useful, masks that include them should not be used where a sterile environment is required.
Is N95 Mask Reusable?
Pre-pandemic, the N95 was strictly a single-use piece of protective clothing. Medical workers were supposed to wear it during surgeries and other high-risk procedures and discard it as soon as it was over.
Fast forward to the pandemic era, reusing an N95 mask has almost become a necessity. In fact, CDC has released guidelines to decontaminate, disinfect, and reuse an N95 mask respirator. This is mainly because we are in times of crisis and if we use N95 masks for single use only we will be running a heavy risk of running short on supplies very soon.
Despite this, an N95 mask is still not recommended to be used multiple times and is supposed to be discarded once its shelf life is over. In the case of reusing the mask with proper sterilization, a total use time should not exceed 8 hours of combined use.
However, reusing the mask beyond its shelf life is a crisis capacity strategy and CDC has suggested to not object to sterilizing the mask once it has been exposed to the virus or any other disease.
Directions to Reuse an N95 Mask
There are a few ways to reuse an N95 mask that has been approved by the medical community.
Because the N95 masks are made to be single-use, disposable, the mask contour and/or fabric strength may change after any type of high heat or hot water process/decontamination and depending on the materials used in the outer layers. Suboptimal fit may result in unfiltered air entrance around the edges of the mask. If the inner surface of mask is made with paper or tissue, this method may result in loose fibers and a loss of strength.
Rotate a few masks
Number four masks from 1-4, and wear them sequentially. In three days, if the virus is present on the mask it will die out, and you can use the mask again without fearing the spread of Covid-19.
Use dry heat
You can apply dry heat to the N95 mask to about 70 degrees for an hour. You can do this multiple times without damaging the fabric of the mask.
N95 masks can be reused in crisis situations such as a pandemic, even though it is still intended to be used only once. For a full CDC recommendation on reusing the N95 masks, check their guidelines here.