How long can you wear an N95 mask, and other care tips

“I get dressed for a week,” said Lynsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

Marr said the N95 mask’s material and filtration ability “will not degrade unless you physically rub it or make holes in it.” “You have to be in really polluted air… for several days before it loses its ability to filter out particles. So, you can really wear it for a long time.”

“People have been talking about 40 hours – I think that’s a good thing,” she added. “Really, your face is going to get affected or the tapes are going to loose too much or maybe break before you lose the ability to filter.”

The reason N95 masks are classified as single-use is because they’re classified as medical masks, said Erin Brumage, associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

In medical settings, he said, health care workers change masks frequently to avoid “contaminating a patient’s room with equipment that an infectious person was wearing and then go into the next room and bring the infection with you.” “When you then take something medical grade that is one-time use and show it to the general public, we don’t have to worry about you contaminating the different environments you’re in. It’s really about protecting you.”

Bromge added that N95s “used to be a dollar or so each,” but prices have recently risen as public demand for these masks has increased amid concerns over Omicron’s variance. If you’re safely reusing N95s, you get at least two or three days of use from one mask, Bromage added, but “I realize it still adds to the expense.”

Some local public health departments, such as the Maryland and Milwaukee Health Departments, offer free N95 masks.

Here’s what else you should know about safely wearing and reusing N95 masks.

Why N95s?

Compared to cloth masks, properly fitted N95s prevent small particles from entering your nose or mouth better thanks to certain materials — such as polypropylene fibers — that act as mechanical and electrostatic barriers to combined air, the primary driver of coronavirus infection.
The difference between N95 and KN95 masks is where the mask is approved, according to the Oklahoma Department of Health. The United States certifies N95s, while China certifies KN95s. About 60% of KN95 respirators sold in the United States are counterfeit and do not meet National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety requirements, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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“If they’re manufactured to standards and certified by the appropriate boards in their country like NIOSH here, they all basically do the same thing,” Bromage previously told CNN. “But there are a lot of imitations that are not certified on the KN95 side of things, that may meet the standards but are not certified to meet them. There are others that clearly don’t.”

Marr said the N95 masks were “not made for children.” “For older kids, my 10 year old son wears the N95 which comes in a small size (adjusted for adults).”

“If you see that N95 is being marketed to children, that should raise a red flag,” Mar added. “There will be KN95 and KF94s that are designed and marketed to children. With those, it’s the same issue we’ve been discussing for adults, which is making sure you get them from a trusted, reputable source, because there’s a problem with imitation KN95s that don’t provide as much protection as they should.”

Marr said Project N95, the national clearinghouse that works to provide equitable access to personal protective equipment and coronavirus testing, is a reputable source for N95 and KN95 masks.

KF94s are standard Korean masks.

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You might have to try a few different brands or shapes of KN95s, KF94s, or mini N95s to find one that’s just right and comfortable for your child, Marr said. I suggested if you still have trouble fitting the mask to your child’s face, you can tie the ear loops or use toggles or wire lock adjusters to ensure the mask fits tightly enough. This CDC video on the knot and tuck method may also help.

Reusing an N95 Mask – And When It’s Not

To reuse N95 masks as safely as possible, Marr said, avoid touching the outside front of the mask when wearing it. Instead, try to handle it by the edges or straps. “Definitely avoid the part where you breathe right in, like right in front of your nose and mouth,” she added.

Even after wearing the N95 in a crowded indoor setting — like the subway — Marr said, “These masks are really designed to handle a lot of particulates and will still work.”

However, known exposure should influence your approach. “If I was working in an office and I was wearing an N95 and someone in my office had tested positive, I would have known that I was well protected,” Bromage said. “But I will probably get rid of that mask. Because this mask has done its job of trapping the virus and I don’t even want to risk it being there and getting it on my hand or something.”

There are a lot of N95 masks, but they are not designed for your kids
It is possible to be near an infected person in any other public place — such as the subway or a grocery store — while wearing an N95 mask. Staying at least 6 feet away from others as possible can help reduce the risk of Covid-19.

If the mask becomes wet, visibly dirty, bent, wrinkled, or otherwise damaged — including from wearing makeup — you need to replace it because these conditions may reduce the mask’s effectiveness, Marr and Bromage said.

“The longer you wear it, the more material it actually retains — which means that breathability, and the resistance of the mask, starts to decrease,” Bromage said. “One of the first indications of being able to change it up if it looks nice and clean is that it feels more difficult to breathe. There seems to be more resistance with each breath.”

How to sterilize N95 masks

The longer and more frequently you wear the N95 mask, the more polluted it becomes. But Marr said the particles would die within a period of a few hours to several hours, and even faster if you put a face covering aside in sunlight.

“Things like temperature and sunlight have an effect, but you don’t want to toss them in an oven or microwave,” Bromage said. “I used to stick mine on my car’s dashboard in the summer and that would have done too much in terms of the heat and direct light it was getting. But really, there is nothing you can do to extend its life with cleaning that the average person can access to it.”

Marr said that because N95 masks contain that special static charge that helps filter out viruses, the masks shouldn’t be washed off, because the water will dissipate the charge.

In general, the contamination risks in reusing N95 masks “are lower, and much lower, than the risks of not wearing N95 and inhaling particles,” Marr said. “I don’t want people to avoid wearing N95 because they are worried about contamination on the N95. The N95 would provide a huge net benefit.”

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