How often should you wash your N95 mask?

The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets generated by the infected person when coughing, sneezing, or talking. These droplets also contaminate objects and surfaces, which is another way to get the virus. To prevent the virus from spreading, people are urged to use face masks.

There are a lot of face masks available on the market and which one you use depends on several factors. Cloth masks, surgical masks, and N95 masks are among the widely used face masks all over the world.

What is an N95 mask?

An N95 mask is a kind of respiratory protective device that is worn over the user’s nose and mouth to protect against small airborne particles and large droplets that may contain bacteria and viruses. An N95 mask should have a good facial fit and a tight seal to efficiently filter out at least 95 percent of small airborne particles. 

An N95 mask is a disposable device that should not be shared. Similarly, it is ideally used only once and disposed of after. 

Should I use an N95 mask?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises the general public to use cloth masks instead of N95 masks. This way, N95 masks will be reserved for healthcare workers and medical responders who need them the most.

However, there are still people who prefer the N95 mask over cloth coverings and surgical masks because of its 95 percent filtration efficiency. To enjoy the same level of protection, you have to use your N95 mask properly. You must pass a fit test and perform a user seal check every time you wear it.

Can I reuse an N95 mask?

A lot of people who wear N95 masks would like to reuse their masks due to limited supply. Another reason is that N95 masks are not as cheap as surgical masks. Throwing away an N95 mask and using a new one every day might be difficult for some. To solve this issue, people attempt to decontaminate their N95 masks at home.

N95 mask decontamination is a tedious process and requires special equipment and personnel. Fortunately, some healthcare facilities have the proper equipment to properly disinfect N95 masks. 

If you are not a healthcare worker and don’t have access to N95 mask decontamination equipment, you’ll have to do it on your own at home.  

How do I decontaminate my N95 mask at home?

Before we go into N95 mask decontamination at home, remember not to wash your N95 mask with soap and water or spray it with alcohol. These methods do not work and will only destroy the electrostatic charge of the N95 mask, making it less efficient.

A simple way to decontaminate your N95 mask is to follow a round-robin rotation where you need at least seven N95 masks and use a different one every day. After using an N95 mask, put it in a paper bag and leave it there for seven days. This method relies on the belief that SARS-CoV-2 could not survive an inhospitable host after seven days. Some actually say that it only takes 72 hours for the virus to die, but others believe that seven is a safer number. The downside to this is you need seven N95 masks for it to work.

You can also steam or boil your N95 mask for three minutes. This method disinfects the N95 mask without reducing its filtering efficiency. Submerge the N95 mask in 125 degree Celsius water without excessively stirring the mask. N95 masks that have paper layers are not to be steamed or boiled as paper layers may disintegrate.

Another way to decontaminate your N95 mask is by putting it inside the oven for 30 minutes. Heat the N95 mask at a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius for half an hour. Although this method is easy, it assumes that you have a different oven that is exclusively for N95 mask decontamination. You don’t really want to use your main food oven for this task.

How often should I wash my N95 mask?

You have to wash your N95 mask each time you use it. If you follow the paper bag method, you need to put your used N95 mask in a paper bag after taking it off. It can be tempting to reuse an N95 mask several times before you actually decontaminate it, but this is dangerous and you may end up with the virus.

Technically, you should not be washing your N95 mask. You will be heating or steaming it in boiling water or baking it in the oven. Remember that soap, water, and alcohol will ruin your N95 mask, so do not attempt to use them.

While the CDC says there is no way to determine how many times you can reuse your N95 mask safely, the general rule is to discard your N95 mask once it is visibly soiled, wet, or damaged. These N95 masks may have reduced filtration efficiency and are not to be used. 

How to avoid contaminating your N95 mask

After decontaminating your N95 mask, handle it properly to prevent contamination. Follow the steps in donning an N95 mask, doing a user seal check, and removing your N95 mask. You also have to discard your N95 mask correctly.

Buying an N95 mask does not guarantee protection from COVID-19. You have to maintain social distancing, wash your hands frequently, and handle your N95 mask properly to minimize your risk of getting the virus as well as do your part in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

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