Coronavirus has taken the world by storm. As each day passes, the pandemic finds its way to more cities and countries. After China, Italy and Iran were once the two most affected countries. Unfortunately, the States is now one of the most hit countries.
The good news is the nation is reopening one step at a time. We will be stronger and life will be better soon. That said, wearing masks, washing hands and practicing social distancing are necessary actions to protect ourselves and others.
In the Post
- Get the Latest Updates
- If You Have Got Some N95 Masks…
- General Precautions for Using N95 Masks
- How Long Do N95 Masks Last and Are They Reusable?
- Limitations of N95 Masks
- Is N95 Mask Effective Than Dust/Surgical Mask?
- N95 Masks FAQs
- Closing Up
Get the Latest Updates
Here are three sources for you to access the latest data on this pandemic worldwide. You can also check out your local situations.
For small business facing possible fancial challenges, here are some remedies:
Spread the word, and help stop the pandemic
- N95, KN95, R95 and P95 (Differences and Reuse)
- Why Stockpiling Toilet Paper to Cope with Coronavirus Fears?
- Working from Home: Challenges and Solutions
If You Have Got Some N95 Masks…
Because life must go on, many people are using masks to cover their noses and mouths as a way of preventing themselves from contracting the ever-mutating virus. So, are N95 masks effective at keeping away the virus? If yes, how long do the masks last? Are they reusable?
Yes, N95 masks or respirators as they are also known can protect against the virus. Unlike surgical masks, the N95 is thicker and handy in helping to prevent the spread of the disease. The CDC opines that this mask if worn correctly, can filter out 95% of airborne particles.
They boast the ability to keep at bay particles whose size is less than 0.3 micrometers. Isn’t that impressive? To ensure the mask works as it ought to, you need to ensure it maintains its function and fit.
The design of N95 masks is such that they offer protection against any particulate matter like smoke particulates, aerosols, mists, fumes, and dust. The respirators can also protect against biological particles like allergens, animal dander, and viruses. You can utilize them to shield yourself against bacteria, mold spores, and pollen.
Simply put, they are magical in offering protection against aerosolized droplets which can be unseen to the normal eye.
General Precautions for Using N95 Masks
Do you suffer from ailments that make it challenging to breathe such as cardiac issues or chronic respiratory? If yes, then you should be very careful when using these masks. Consult a doctor before putting the mask on. This is because you might experience more difficulty in breathing when you wear the N95 mask.
The good thing is that some models feature exhalation valves which ease breathing. They also alleviate the accrual of heat.
Another highly important thing that you need to know is that every FDA-cleared N95 mask is tagged ”single-use” throwaway gadget. For this reason, if yours happens to get soiled or damaged, you need to remove, confiscate and swap it for an unused one. The same is true if you have challenges breathing.
Safe confiscation entails putting it inside a plastic bag and throwing it in a trash bin. Once you have done that, you need to thoroughly wash your hands.
Talking of fitting, how do you ensure that your N95 mask is an exact fit? Well, you can initiate negative and positive pressure checks to ascertain that you have not only put on your mask correctly but adjust it appropriately if need be. Here is how to go about it:
- Put two hands on your mask, place around your nose and mouth, and inhale deeply. Ensure you do not disrupt the mask’s position. It needs to yank into your face. If you notice there is air leak around your eyes or face, correct the straps and nosepiece, then repeat the process of pressure checking.
- Put two hands on your mask, place around your nose and mouth, and deeply breathe out. Does your mask feature an exhalation valve? When exhaling, ensure the exhalation valve is covered completely. If yours fits properly, then there should be no air leak. If there is air leakage, you need to re-adjust the straps and nosepiece, then repeat the process of pressure checking.
Check out this video on how to properly wear an N95 mask.
How Long Do N95 Masks Last and Are They Reusable?
You can use the N95 mask for many hours uninterrupted. The respirators can perform optimally for eight hours of intermittent or nonstop use. Regular replacement is necessary.
When it comes to its shelf life, in most cases, you can use it for not more than 5 years from their date of production (check the date printed on the package of your mask).
In addition to that, you should ensure you store properly in their original packaging as storage conditions impact their durability.
OSHA directs that you can reuse the N95 mask provided it maintain its practical and operational integrity. On top of that, its filter material should not be soiled or physically damaged.
You need to discard your N95 mask in any of the following situations:
- Discard yours after close contact with an environment or area of a patient that is co-infected or infected with the disease.
- Dispose of your mask if it is contaminated with nasal secretions, respiratory secretions, blood or any other bodily fluid.
- Get rid of your mask after using it in an aerosol-generating procedure.
Updates in response to Comments
Thanks to Eva, Kim and John, we have some new information here and will keep updating it.
Can I leave my N95 outside in the fresh air for 1 day in order to reuse it?
Researchers have found that this new coronavirus stay viable for hours (on cardboard and copper) and days (on plastic and stainless steel) under certain temperature.
Why the difference? This is because coronavirus needs its “envelop” to survive. Soft, porous materials like cardboard pull moisture away from viruses, and dryness has a devastating impact on their envelop. UV and heat enhances this impact.
N95 masks, too, are porous materials. So, it’s reasonable to expect that the coronavirus on the mask surface may become noninfectious after 24h if you put your mask under virus-unfriendly condition.
However, there’s no evidence so far as to how long this novel coronavirus can survive on fabric mask.
And, according to CDC, N95 masks are reusable only for limited times even in cases of depleted PPE supplies, which means you should not disinfect them this way and reuse it for endless times. This leads us to the update in response to comment from Kim:
How many times can I safely reuse my N95 mask if I only go to sparsely populated areas?
In reply to Kim, we indicated that moisture in our breath (humidity) downgrades filtration efficiency of a mask. In fact, a more important factor that CDC and other healthcare institutes took into consideration is Total Inward Leakage (TIL), a parameter that measures the sealing performance of your mask.
CDC recommends limiting the number of N95 reuse to no more than five based on conclusions of this study. As you put on and take off your mask (donnings and doffings), some components, say rubber straps and nose clips, degrade over time with increasing TIL. That’s why a seal check is always necessary and extended use is preferred over limited reuses. That being said, some models used in the study maintained good fit even after 20 donnings.
In a laboratory evaluation, filtration efficiency of N95 masks from two manufacturers reduced to below 95% after 9 weeks of simulated intermittent reuse.
So, does it mean that you could keep your precious N95 mask for at least two weeks, as long as it provides good fit and is disinfected properly? No. This study indicates that air flow, in addition to humidity and time, also has impact on filtration efficiency. In other words, your breathing strength also plays a role here.
Long story short, it’s hard to set a single standard for all as there are so many variables affecting performance of N95 masks. That’s why we need to follow CDC guidelines to ensure an adequate safety margin.
We have some old N95 masks, can they work as designed?
According to this research, N95 facial masks stored in their original packaging for six years satisfactorily maintain their filtration performance. Researchers believed that N95 facial masks stay functional for up to ten years if stored with intact package under good condition.
Limitations of N95 Masks
While we have established that N95 respirators are effective in many areas, they have limitations. Some of their limitations include:
- As aforementioned, they are not ideal for children. Their design is such that they cannot fit children.
- N95 is not effective if you have long mustaches, stubble or beards. All these can prevent the mask from fitting properly hence causing leaks.
- First-time users can have challenges putting the mask on.
- If the face of a wearer changes perhaps because of weight gain or loss, then he or she needs to conduct a test like directed above.
You should avoid wearing the masks in these situations:
- Industrial applications like painting, sandblasting and asbestos removal
- Atmosphere or environment containing poisonous levels of vapors or gases
- Confined spaces or rooms with low levels of oxygen
Is N95 Mask Effective Than Dust/Surgical Mask?
The NIOSH tests and certifies N95 masks. This ensures they filter up to 95% of particles. Surgical masks and dust masks, on the other hand, do not offer the necessary protection levels from particles. Their main work is to prevent you from expelling biological particles to the environment.
N95 Masks FAQs
Must I wear it in public?
According to the CDC, routine use of N95 masks is not advisable. The organization opines that the spread of viruses including the Coronavirus from one individual to another happens within 6 feet. Members of the community are advised to adhere to preventative actions that help halt or mitigate the spread of the virus.
Some of the steps you can take to reduce your chances of contracting the virus include:
- Using a tissue to cover your sneeze or cough
- Refraining from touching your nose or eyes before sanitizing your hands
- Avoiding sick people
- Canceling any unnecessary party
If you are sick, you need to remain at home. Avoid mingling with the public or visiting folks in the hospital.
My N95 mask features an exhalation valve. Should I be worried? Is it okay?
N95 masks featuring exhalation valves offer similar protection just like those without. The only difference is that those with the feature usually mitigate exhalation resistance thus making it effortless to exhale or breathe. An exhalation valve not only reduces the accumulation of moisture but also ensures your face remains cooler.
How do I distinguish NIOSH-Approved Masks from the Unapproved ones?
The NIOSH approval label and numbers are vital when it comes to distinguishing the approved masks from the unapproved ones. You can always find the approval labels within or on the mask’s packaging or even the mask itself. The needed labeling should include the model number, lot number, filter designation, approval number, and NIOSH name.
Check the NIOSH CEL to ascertain respirator approvals.
Is there a way to tell whether my mask is expired?
According to the NIOSH, N95 masks need not have expiration dates attached to them. If your mask lacks the date of expiry, refer the manual or consult the manufacturer on whether storage conditions and time have any effect on your mask’s performance and shelf life. Storage conditions such as humidity and temperature can affect the functionality of your mask.
A mask can outlive its intended days. When such a thing happens, using it is prohibited as it might perform accordingly. With time, its features such as nose bridge and strap might degrade thus affecting the performance and quality of its seal and fit. Before buying and using your mask, it is prudent to not only inspect but also perform a check that verifies the quality or otherwise of the seal.
Expired or overused N95 masks do not adhere to the NIOSH’s certification requirements.
We hope the information above comes in useful and solve your questions. If you think this article is helpful, please share it with your friends. Do you have any suggestions? Please leave a comment to let us know.
Does washing the mask destroy its effectiveness?
Hi Art, thanks for your question and the answer is yes. You should not wash your N95 masks or any disposable masks as the fabric will be completely destroyed or lose its function as a virus/particle filter. Also, you should not spray alcohol (or alcohol-containing sanitizer) to mask surfaces in order to disinfect it. Please keep your N95 masks or any other masks with the ‘N’ designation away from oily stuff. The ‘N’ designation indicates that the mask is NOT resistant to oil. Feel free to contact us or reply if you have other questions. Be Safe.
The only type of mask you can and should wash is cloth face coverings. Wash it after each use or daily.
Dennis A Warren
I’ve used N & R-95 for 30 years in factory and regard surgical masks, basically spit catchers, not filters, as near 50% in & exhale bypass being filtered between the bridge of the nose & cheek, they have no aluminum strip to bend and mold the mask for a semi airtight fit, and home made cloth are not much better fit.
I believe, to better control virus exchange, all masks need to incorporate the aluminum strip or equivalent to mold around the nose bridge, or they are little more than cosmetic.
We need a LARGE after market supply of Aluminum nose bridge strips available to everyone, and priced dirt cheap, to the Mask making Public, and to have them added to the Hospital Surgical Version to more positively FILTER exhaust & intake air to better stop the travel of all viruses person to person, (and this NEED just increased five fold), with the relaxing of protective precautions in phase 1 in Most states.
We need to take a Realistic approach toward STOPPING this virus, not LIMITING the spread, because of it’s extreme contagious nature, or we will be dealing with it for years, not months.
We also need a strong, inflexible standard of masks REQUIRED in all public indoor areas, by EVERYONE within common sense, such as eating or drinking, as well as highly recommended outdoors when around others, except in cars.
Hi Dennis. Thanks for your suggestions and yes, we agree with you that all masks should have a nose strip for better seal. Like we’ve pointed out in reply to Kim, Total Inward Leakage (TIL) is actually more important than filtration efficiency of mask materials, when it comes to stop spreading the novel virus. That’s why we’ve stressed seal check.
Vananzo H Eaton
I do not have the original packaging for my N95 mask. Can I store in a brown paper bag or a zip lock bag?
Hi Vanazo, thanks for dropping by. When we talk about original packaging in this post, our intention is to show evidence to people who have old but unused N95 masks with intact original packaging. If you have opened the packaging of your mask, used it once and wanted to reuse it, it’s recommended to put it in a breathable paper bag between uses. Please also read our latest updates. Be safe.
I have a UV-c wand. Can it be used to disinfect the N95 mask? or any other masks? Does UV-c kill the virus?
Hi Robert. Thanks for writing in! Short answer: don’t do that. Here’s why.
First, UV-c does inactivate SARS-COV virus under experimental conditions (with UV power of 4016 μW/cm2 at a distance of 3 cm for 15 min). See details here. But, while assuming that UV-c has the same effect on SARS-COV-2, the very novel virus caused COVID-19, there’s no solid evidence yet.
Second, in my reply to Cameron (see below), I referred to a report about the effect of UV light on N95 masks. Guess what? Researchers used a UV-c source in the test and it significantly degraded strength of sample mask materials. It’s reasonable to believe that UV-c has damaging effects on other masks because they are made of same raw material (melt-blown fabric).
Third, among the three types of UV light known to us, UV-c is the most energetic and so applied to kill microorganisms in health care facilities. The bad news is that it harms humans too. In that sense, I’m wondering if your commercially available UV-c wand (must be safe for users) is powerful enough to kill the virus. And, if it kills the virus, I think it can also damage your mask.
Excellent article! 5 stars+
Thanks Carlos. We are glad to be helpful. Stay healthy and God bless us all!
I have heard that for reusing N95 masks they should be stored in a dry place “out of sunlight” because the sunlight damages the filter. How much of a problem is sunlight. If I leave my mask in my vehicle between use for a period of 1 week (or maybe two weeks at a max) is that OK? The mask may see less than 2 hours of use during that 2 week period.
Hi Cam, it seems you are doing great in practicing the social distancing and staying home initiative. Thank you! For your question, I’d like to put it this way: On one hand, sunlight does have a negative impact on N95 mask material, but I believe it’s negligible, according to this research and considering how you use your N95. On the other hand, however, I don’t think it’s a good idea leaving it in your car. CDC suggested putting it in a “breathable” container but cars in fact provide a pretty confined space, which may be an ideal hotbed for some oral bacteria jumped onto the mask from our mouth…
Like Kimberley, “I practice social distancing and shop for groceries once a week in very sparsely populated grocery stores.”
How do you feel about a washable DIY mask with a pocket for insert made from HEPA vacuum bag?
That’s a good idea, Debra. I would say it’s better than nothing. CDC has published guidlines for wearing homemade cloth face coverings, and the DIY idea you mentioned is a comparable option. Stay safe.
I agreed with Debra because most HEPA vacuum bags are made of fabrics free of glass fibers. But, there are glass fiber filters on the market. So, for those who want to do this, please make sure that your vacuum bag does not contain glass fibers.
Thanks for some really good info. Ours are several years old, so not sure if they are still going to filter as designed but they still seem to give a good seal. I’ve used them for years when doing yard work during pollen season. I guess they have a new purpose now…
Hi John, thanks for dropping by and we really appreciate your preparedness. Unfortunately we have to use it for that new purpose, but the good news is your N95 masks in stock will do their job quite well. According to this research, N95 facial masks stored in their original package for six years satisfactorily maintain their filtration performance. Researchers believed that N95 facial masks stay functional for up to ten years if stored with intact package under good condition.
Hello, I practice social distancing and shop for groceries once a week in very sparsely populated grocery stores. How many times can I safely reuse my N 95 mask if I feel confident it has not been contaminated?
Hey Kim. Thanks for stopping by and following isolation rules to protect youself and your community! According to CDC, NIOSH and mask manufacturers, lifespan of your mask is meansured by hours. As we breathe with masks on, the relative humidity under the mask can reach to above 90% in minutes. This downgrades its protection as time goes by. So, given that you’re not using your mask in a highly contaminated environment, and if your mask provide good fit and seal, I think we should stick to CDC’s advice, measure the time and discard it after 8 hours of use. Stay safe and healthy. May God bless us all.
can you leave the N95 mask outside in the fresh air for 1 day in order to reuse it?
Hi Eva, thanks for your trust. However, this is not a yes-no question to answer. The functionality of your N95 mask is affected by a bunch of factors. To protect your health, we strongly recommend visiting this page of CDC. It gives some reuse recommendations, and explains risks of extended use and reuse. For your information, Medical School of Duke University also decontaminated N95 masks with vaporized hydrogen peroxide. Wish you safe and sound. May God bless us all.