An N95 respirator gives you protection against harmful airborne particulates—fluids, bacteria, viruses, and even air pollutants. This mask aims to provide the user with the utmost protection. The N95 has also been successfully tested to give you 95% protection against these particulates making it a very reliable mask. The N95 was and remains to be the top choice for all healthcare workers in America and all over the world due to its efficient protection against the Coronavirus disease.

The respirator has been approved by esteemed agencies such as the FDA and NIOSH which speaks for the N95’s reliability itself. As the N95 can filter out 0.3-micron particles, the mask can also filter the coronavirus bacteria as the infection is just about the same size, thus making it effective against the virus. The N95’s stature resulted in the mask’s scarcity in stores and even on all online platforms. The FDA even ordered online platforms such as Amazon to withhold the masks’ sale for Healthcare and frontline workers only as these sectors were exposed to the virus on a higher magnitude than the civilians.

But just like everything, the N95 has pros and cons. The N95 is great at its job—offers you 95% protection against particulates, has the approval of NIOSH and FDA but the two major downsides of this mask are that they cannot be reused and they tend to expire.

Why do N95’s expire?

If a mask is kept in storage for too long, its efficiency will decrease over time. This happens because after some time the mask’s nose-foam and the strap will start to degrade which will indubitably affect the mask’s efficiency as it could weaken the quality of the fit and seal. In addition, disposable respirators such as the N95 have limited shelf life—meaning that they should not be kept in storage for too long. Since the masks are made from plastic and rubber polymer, if exposed to extreme cold or hot environments, the respirator may contract on expand, depending on the type of severity.

But there’s a catch here too. According to the CDC, who tested out the samples of many expired respirators found that a lot of them were still functional and effective. CDC also says that masks could be used past their expiration date if they are stored in a dark and dry place. However, certain guidelines must be met before deciding to use a respirator that has been expired. If the respirator’s nose-foam, seal, and clip is intact and showcase no damage then the mask may be fit to use.

When to throw the expired N95 away?

CDC’s decision to allow the use of expired N95 is rather perilous as it could backfire but as the saying goes “desperate times call for desperate measurements” and this was a desperate moment for America because their healthcare workers were treating COVID-19 patients without PPE. But CDC has also clearly explained that these masks may only be used the meet the criteria of a usual N95 mask, are not defective and function normally. They further elaborated that although these masks are allowed to be used, their use is not highly recommended—they should only be used in case of extreme urgency. And if the aforementioned criteria are not met with then the masks should be thrown away as it will be of no use.

How to tell if an N95 has expired?

If you have purchased an N95 from a manufacturer such as 3M then you can refer to the N95’s packaging or official website to acquire information about the respirator’s shelf life and other things. 3M gives its user proper guidelines on how and where to store the N95 masks in a manner that will not decrease the mask’s efficiency. The N995’s quality that makes sit stand out amongst the other masks is its tight seal—if the seal becomes damaged then the N95 is as good as wearing no mask at all.

To find out about the mask’s expiry date, a user may refer to the packaging as 3M has the expiration date written on it. According to 3M, a respirator should be gotten rid of if the respirator is past the expiration date. Another way to determine if the mask is fit for use or not is to check the mask manually and if the user is not able to secure a fit seal then the mask may have expired. Even if the mask has not reached its expiration date and the user finds it to be damaged or is not able to secure a fit seal then the mask should not be used.

If a user is not able to find the expiration date on the packaging then the user may contact the manufacturer directly to inquire about its shelf life.

Conclusion

All respirators including the N95 have limited shelf lives. This means that the masks have an expiration date, after which the mask may be of no good use. While that may be the general perception for many, one can bend this rule if the assumed expired respirator is still able to function and does not show any damage. However, the use of an expired N95 mask is not highly recommended and should only be done under dire circumstances. If someone wants to use an expired mask they must make sure that the N95 meets the average respirator’s criteria and if it does not then the mask should be thrown away.

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