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Can you decontaminate an N95 mask?

Can you decontaminate an N95 mask

N95 masks are respirators which protect the wearer from viruses, bacteria and dust by filtering out at least 95% of airborne particles. They are designed to be one-use masks, which means that you dispose of them once you are done wearing them. However, sometimes, this may not be possible – especially in a pandemic situation, where there is likely to be a shortage of protective gear such as N95 masks.

When supply of N95 masks is limited due to shortage, you can use a “contingency strategy” to conserve supplies. These strategies can include using N95 masks that have passed the recommended shelf-life and “extended use” where N95 masks are worn for prolonged periods of time to treat multiple patients instead of disposing after each patient. If these strategies are used and there are still not enough N95 masks, crisis strategies can be used, such as “limited reuse”. Limited reuse is when an N95 mask is worn for multiple encounters, but removed, stored and sometimes decontaminated to be used again for another patient contact.

As a grassroots organization dedicated to connect people who need to buy PPE with high-quality, authentic masks, the team at Protectly know that it can be difficult to access the N95 masks you may need in times of shortage. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a worldwide shortage of masks such as N95 respirators. However, in times of shortage, it is actually possible for an N95 mask to be decontaminated and then re-used a maximum of three times by healthcare professionals, although it is still recommended to use them only once.

So, how do you decontaminate an N95 mask for re-use in times of shortage? And can you trust a decontaminated N95 mask to protect you against the coronavirus?

It is essential that the fit of the mask, especially the seal it forms against the wearer’s face, is maintained during decontamination. There are four methods that can be commonly used to remove or kill coronavirus particles from N95 masks.

The first method is fumigation with hydrogen peroxide vapor. The vapor permeates the respirator’s layers in a closed room. It only takes 20 minutes to decontaminate a mask with this method, but it takes 4 hours before it is safe for anyone to enter the room due to the hydrogen peroxide fumes. This means that it is an unrealistic method to do at home or without a specialized fumigation facility.

This brings us to the second method, which is more achievable to do at home. This method uses hot water between 60-80 degrees Celsius. The N95 mask should be submerged in the water for at least 30 minutes. It is essential that after this, the mask is dried by a standard, non-static hair dryer for at least 10 minutes to regenerate the mask’s electrostatic charge which helps it to filter viral particles. You can confirm that the charge is restored by scattering small pieces of paper on the mask and seeing if they stick.

Another way to decontaminate N95 mask is using an autoclave, which is usually found in hospitals and clinics for use with surgical equipment. The autoclave can sterilize at 121 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, which is the time recognized to disinfect and sterilize.

Finally, N95 masks can be decontaminated by baking for 30 minutes at 75 degrees Celsius. Anything higher than 125 degrees Celsius should not be used as the mask begins to deteriorate.

While the team at Protectly.co recommend that you only use N95 masks once, if you are in a situation where you may need to reuse a mask, these decontamination methods will help you to stay protected against the virus. Make sure that you use the mask correctly, including appropriate hand hygiene, avoiding touching the mask, and social distancing where possible. If you have any questions, please reach out to us and we will see how we can help.