What to do if your N95 mask strap breaks

The need for N95 masks every day can add up to a considerable expense. Hospitals and healthcare centers in the United States were not prepared for the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) they’ve had to use this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These respirators are disposable face masks, which means they’re not reusable, and can be worn for around 8 to 12 hours. Any person who uses them has to discard them and replace them with a new one after this, since the masks lose their efficiency after some time of use.

However, when a new mask has a broken strap, it hurts to throw it away when the facepiece still works, and when they’re so hard to obtain. So, learning how to fix this situation can be very useful.

Repairing the straps of your N95 mask

This situation is very common and can happen to the most high-quality products, including 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8210, 3M 8511, and 3M 1860. Head-bands are very important for the proper fit of the respirator around the face, specifically the mouth and nose. The fit is crucial for the correct performance of N95 respirators, and if the straps aren’t working correctly, the mask will not be as effective.

Throwing the N95 mask away can be painful considering the difficulties hospitals and healthcare centers are having to obtain them, and how important they are. So, users need to know there’s a way to fix this issue, but a lot of care has to be taken while doing it.

Before starting, hygiene of the hands is extremely important. Wash them with soap and water for 20 seconds at least. Don’t put on the mask on the face either, everything must remain sterile. Keep the respirator in a clean and dry place, and if you have any respiratory symptoms, don’t do this yourself.

First, cut the elastic band to a length that will wrap tightly around your face. Open the edges on each side of the respirator, revealing the ends of the straps, then proceed to remove and discard them. Take the elastic band and put the ends together, with the longer piece on top.

Now, place the ends of the elastic bands on the open edge of the mask, with the pink side up. Take the mask to your cleaned and disinfected sewing machine. Use a small and narrow thread to sew the straps in place. Follow the same process with the other end of the straps. Make sure to do a reverse stitch to secure the sewing, and trim the thread that is left.

What if I can’t do it myself?

Maybe you don’t want to risk damaging the respirator or don’t have the supplies at hand, or maybe there’s a whole bulk of defective N95 respirators intended to be used at your healthcare facility. These situations might need the use of professionals and volunteers.

With the increase in the demand and the rush for producing more N95 masks, a defective batch can happen more frequently now. So, encountering this situation might now come as a surprise to you during the pandemic.

Luckily, as a result of this public health emergency, several volunteer groups are willing to fix defective N95 respirators. At the beginning of the pandemic, they were dedicating their time to help frontline workers by fixing whole batches of defective masks for their local communities. With a little research, you can find if there are any close to you.

Explaining why N95 masks are so important

N95 masks are a type of disposable face mask used in the healthcare field, which is different from surgical face masks, the most popular mask in this field. These are respirators with many different uses as PPE in other industries, like construction or mining. But, in the healthcare field, they’re very important for antiviral purposes, being the best mask for virus protection at the moment.

Any mask manufactured to be an N95 respirator has to pass certain regulations done by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Additionally, to be used as medical equipment, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must also approve them.

NIOSH is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that sets the standards an N95 mask must meet, which are:

  • To have no resistance to oil.
  • To have a filtration efficacy of 95% for airborne particles.

These two characteristics in N95 masks make them great devices for the protection against certain particles, including dust, smoke, and viruses like the flu virus and the SARS-CoV-2, the one responsible for COVID-19. This has increased their value and demand, leading to situations of shortages in healthcare centers, as well as scams and sales of low-quality masks mainly online.

Price gouging has also been a prominent issue when it comes to these masks, with online stores as popular as Amazon and eBay not having them for sale anymore to prevent this. Some healthcare centers have paid a lot of money to buy these masks in wholesale and bulk, only to turn out with counterfeit items, leading to dangerous situations in which their workers aren’t fully protected.

To help our healthcare and frontline workers, we need to follow the guidance provided by the CDC, in which they don’t encourage the use of medical-grade masks, including N95 respirators and KN95 masks, and other equipment like gloves, face shields, and gowns, by the general public.

These items must be reserved for the workers on the frontlines who need them most. So, they urge the general public to make use of the reusable cloth masks that are widely available in many stores, including sizes that fit kids’ faces properly.

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