With its capability of filtering airborne particles up to 95%, an N95 mask poses an efficient way of providing protection to anyone who wears this. However, the N95 mask is experiencing scarcity. The demand for the N95 mask had skyrocketed since the pandemic started. Hospitals are now short of N95 mask supplies. Stocks of the N95 mask are running out in stores. N95 mask supplying and manufacturing companies are doing their best to meet international demands for the mask.
The scarcity of N95 masks led some hospitals and people to reuse the said mask. Generally, the N95 mask, like any other medical grade masks, is only good for one-time use. The N95 mask must be properly disposed of after using it. A used N95 mask is already contaminated with bacteria and viruses.
With the current situation of the N95 mask, some hospitals are forced to reuse and repurpose their used N95 mask. Like any other medically graded masks, the N95 mask has to be disposed of after one use. If not, the N95 mask can be a triggering point of contagion.
Is it safe to reuse a used N95 mask?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a guideline in reusing the N95 mask. Reusing the N95 mask means that the wearer of the N95 mask must follow proper donning and doffing procedures. The N95 mask must be used multiple times in several patients with similar conditions. After doffing the used N95 mask, the mask must be put inside a container with a label. The label will be the determining factor as to how many times the N95 mask has been used. The N95 mask has only used a maximum of five times.
In reusing the N95 mask, you can check the following characteristics of the mask:
- Fit. If the fit is no longer tight, the N95 mask must be disposed of immediately. The fit will allow the wearer to be free from any form of leakage. The tighter the seal, the less risk for any leakage.
- Color. For a common N95 mask, the color is white. For the surgical N95 mask, it is blue. If there is any presence of discoloration from reddish to yellow, the N95 mask must be disposed of right away to avoid contamination.
- Overall condition. Tearing should not be present on the surface of the N95 mask. Straps of the N95 mask should be firm and attached to the mask. Any form of tearing means unsafe. Dispose the N95 mask immediately.
With the CDC’s recommendation in reusing the N95 mask, there are ways developed to decontaminate the N95 mask. Decontamination eliminates the bacteria or any form of microorganism that are present on the surface of the N95 mask. UV sterilization uses UV light. Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide uses heated Hydrogen Peroxide to decontaminate a used N95 mask. Being the most effective decontamination methods, these can be quite costly. A chamber is needed wherein the used N95 mask is placed to be decontaminated. Hospitals are able to achieve these decontamination processes because they have sufficient funds.
Being at home, the only option for decontamination are Clorox wipes. But would they be effective?
For starters, Clorox wipes are the most popular disinfecting wipes. Like the disinfectant spray, these wipes can kill 99.99% of microorganisms that can trigger illnesses. These are bleach-free and are available in a wide range of scents. Clorox wipes are not a substitute for baby wipes or sanitizing wipes that are gentle on the skin. Clorox contains chemicals that can harm the skin. Clorox has been a known brand in terms of cleaning. With a cemented reputation, it is guaranteed that whatever surface that a Clorox wipe can touch, it is cleaned.
Would Clorox wipes be effective in N95 mask decontamination?
Clorox wipes can be a potential tool to disinfect and decontaminate a used N95 mask. However, there are no studies that certify Clorox wipes as an effective tool in decontaminating the N95 mask. In a study published In the US National Library of Medicine, there were three cleaning wipes used in decontaminating the N95 mask. These wipes contain chlorine compounds which is a staple among cleaning wipes. As a result, the wipes eventually disinfected the N95 mask but did not effectively clean the mask. This puts the Clorox wipes as a potential tool. The effectiveness of the Clorox wipes still has to undergo a study and a series of tests to prove its efficiency.
There are some effective ways to disinfect the used N95 mask available like using a disinfectant spray or using dry heat. Accrediting bodies like the CDC are doing a series of studies to further discover ways of disinfecting the masks without spending so much. However, it will always be best to replace and dispose of the used N95 mask. This is to avoid further contamination and can generate safety for the wearer. It is a stipulated mandate that people should wear masks but it does not entail any form of repetition. Repeating the mask is only necessary when the time calls for it. It is always best to prioritize safety at all times.
People can also look into options for the N95 mask. People can use alternatives like single-use surgical masks, KN95 masks, and FFP masks. These masks can still provide protection. It would be better if the N95 mask is left to the medical workers. They need it more than common people do. People can still get protected without really using the N95 mask.