How to repair a broken N95 respirator

The use of N95 respirators can be quite expensive when it adds up. Something no hospital or healthcare center had in mind is the amount of medical protective gear they would be using since March with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. 

These are disposable face masks, therefore they're not reusable, and have a lifespan of about 8 to 12 hours of use. Anyone who uses them must discard them and put on a new one after that time frame because the masks start to lose efficiency and don't work the same as if they were new. This means that learning how to fix them when they break can help you save a few dollars. 


Why are N95 masks so valuable?

N95 respirators are a very specific type of disposable face mask. They’re not like regular surgical masks, and are typically used as personal protective equipment in certain jobs, like construction and mining. To be considered an N95 mask, they have to pass certain regulations and meet standards set by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. To be used as medical equipment, they need additional approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

As part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIOSH has the responsibility to regulate PPE and give recommendations regarding work-related injuries or illnesses. According to their standards, the two main characteristics (among others) the N95 mask must meet are:

  • To be non-resistant to oil.
  • To be able to filtrate at least 95% of all airborne particles.

These two properties make the N95 mask crucial for protection against particles like dust, smoke, or bioaerosols, like the virus that causes COVID-19 or the flu virus. This makes the N95 respirator a highly valuable item, and a lot of problems have come from this. Price gouging has been a big problem recently, and companies like Amazon and Lowe’s have been fighting against this.

Aside from being overpriced, most N95 masks online are probably fake. A lot of manufacturers started selling low-quality N95 respirators that don’t meet the NIOSH or FDA standards, resulting in high-risk situations for anyone who uses them. 

Not only are N95 masks prices going up, but there are also already shortages of N95 masks around the USA. So, you can understand that the N95 mask is very valuable, and having one of them break or be damaged is very painful when they're very hard to find and cost a lot of money in the majority of the stores that sell them. 


How can you repair the straps from your N95 mask?

Having a strap break lose from the N95 mask is a very common issue that happens to many high-quality products. The headbands are crucial for a proper fit around the nose and mouth, and without them working well, the N95 mask will have no effective activity as a filter for viral particles. 

However, throwing away one good N95 mask just because the straps are broken is very painful, especially considering how pricey and scarce they’re becoming lately. So, can you repair the straps from an N95 mask? The answer is yes, but you have to be careful while doing it. 

It’s important that, before you begin this process, you wash your hands properly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and don’t try on the mask on your face. The respirators should be kept in a clean and dry place. Remember that N95 masks must always be completely clean, and if you have any symptoms of respiratory illness, you shouldn’t be doing this project.

Start by cutting your elastic band to the proper length to wrap tightly around the face. Take the N95 respirator and open up the edges on each side to reveal the ends of the straps, remove them, and discard them appropriately. Put the ends of the two elastic pieces you cut at the beginning together, the longer piece being on top of the shorter one. 

With the pink side facing up, place the ends of the elastic straps into the open edge of the respirator. Put the N95 respirator on your sewing machine (which was previously cleaned and disinfected properly) and, using a small and narrow thread, attach the straps in place. Make sure to reverse stitch to reinforce the sewing you just did, and trim your thread afterward. Do the same with the other end of the straps.


How volunteers and experts can help

If you’ve come across a defective pack or bulk of N95 respirators that were intended to be used by healthcare centers or hospitals, you might want to consider using the help of volunteers and professionals. As we mentioned before, a lot of N95 masks for sale lately are poor quality ones, so a defective batch is common to see. Plus, the quickness with which they have to be produced right now can make manufacturers make mistakes more frequently. For this reason, it's no surprise you might buy a defective pack. 

However, one good solution for this is to look for local volunteers for fixing N95 respirators. Back in March and April, many volunteer groups dedicated a lot of time and effort to help fix batches of defective N95 respirators to provide to their local communities. You can do some research and see if there are any close to you. 

We would like to end this informative article reminding our readers to stay safe. N95 masks are the number one item for virus protection, since their antivirus filter can trap these particles and prevent you from inhaling them. You can easily find the best quality face masks online, and even those in smaller size meant for kids. Other types of protective gear you might be interested in buying are face shields, KN95 masks, and many types of 3M N95 masks, including the 3M 8511 and 3M 8210 models. 

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