Can N95 masks expire?

A lot of people are currently asking about whether their N95 respirators will expire. These specialized masks that come as filtering facepiece respirators are considered as the gold standard of the mask industry.


With the current news that spread over the United States, people are really concerned about masks and expiration. What is the situation? Can N95 masks really expire? 


The Situations

When the US government recently sent out N95 respirators to several states, it was found out that those masks had expired. Families are more concerned now about how N95 respirators work and if they still work even if they are expired.


The N95 Masks May Expire

N95 masks expire. This expiration date is not a deterrent to the functionality of the N95 respirators. 


The Center for Disease Control (CDC), however, informed the population that even with the expired N95 respirators, they still provide better protection than any other masks. According to a professor of environmental health, John Balmes, "N95 masks really don't expire in terms of their functionality. The only part that is subject to damage over time are the elastic bands that attach the mask to the user's face, which can be damaged by sunlight,"


Usability After Expiration

How functional are N95 masks after expiration? According to experts, N95 masks are meant to create a special seal that protects the user. However, the materials used in creating N95 masks may degrade over time. So, how do you know if the N95 respirator that you have on hand is still usable?


Experts say that N95 masks are still usable if they can still properly seal the user without any gaps or space between the mask and the user’s skin. 


Things To Look Out For

If you have an N95 respirator or you have a stock of these masks, there are a couple of things that you should look out for. The following are those things:

  • The straps of the N95 masks will degrade over time. They are made from plastic and rubber polymer. Both materials are affected by changes in weather. 
  • To know the expiration of the N95 respirator, the user must manually check the mask for damage. If you find any kind of problem, you should throw away the N95 respirator. If you still have a good one, you can still keep it for use.
  • Any hole, change in weight, or change in the strap affects the functionality of the N95 respirator. If so, keep in mind that your expired N95 mask may not give you the same level of protection. 

Can I Reuse My N95 Respirator? 

As long as your N95 mask still covers your mouth and nose, you can reuse it to save your resources. The N95 respirator can be reused as long as it has the proper fit and as long as it protects you. 


However, if you do decide to reuse your expired N95 respirator, make sure that it still has the right fit, it still has the right materials, and it will still prevent airborne particles from passing through.


The Experts Weigh In

3M, the biggest manufacturer of face masks, issued information called the ‘Respirators Beyond Their Shelf Life — Considerations’ to help provide information about the face mask. The bulletin provides the following:


“In times of increased demand and decreased supply, consideration can be made to use N95 respirators past their intended shelf life. However, the potential exists that the respirator will not perform to the requirements for which it was certified. Over time, components such as the strap and material may degrade, which can affect the quality of the fit and seal. Prior to use of N95 respirators, the HCP [healthcare professional] should inspect the respirator and perform a seal check. Additionally, expired respirators may potentially no longer meet the certification requirements set by NIOSH.”


Before Using Your Expired Masks

Before using your expired N95 respirators, you should check out important factors, such as:

  • Expired N95 respirators are way beyond their NIOSH certification and are then already not certified. Upon expiration of the N95 respirators, they are no longer NIOSH-approved.
  • Make sure that you have stored your N95 masks based on the proper specifications.
  • Use only the N95 masks that have no break or change in elasticity.

How Do You Properly Store Your Respirators?

If you have N95 respirators, keep in mind that you need to properly store it. 3M, in their bulletin called ‘Why Do Disposable Respirators Have a Defined Shelf Life?‘ provided the following guidelines in storing your N95 respirators. 


First, you must keep your N95 masks in their original packaging. This step is necessary because N95 masks in their original packaging come with manufacturer’s protection.


Another way is to keep your N95 respirator from any contamination. This means that they should not be exposed in chemicals, temperature changes, dusts, and sunlight.


You should also keep in mind that good personal monitoring is also important. Stock rotation and stock management at home will be a good practice. 


Always Keep Yourself Protected

With the N95 respirators, you are protecting yourself and your family. Even if you are using one that has already passed its expiration date, make sure that your N95 masks will seal you and your face properly. Protect your family, your loved ones, and yourself with the N95 masks. Remember, even the N95 masks that are expired still provide better protection than other loose-fitting masks.

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