Now that the Omicron variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, many people are upgrading to N95 and KN95 respirators. These masks are much more effective than their cloth counterparts at blocking viral particles, but they’re also more expensive.
Fortunately, with some know-how and a little bit of extra effort, it’s possible to reuse your masks and extend their use for days, if not weeks. To help make the process easier, we’ve curated this list of frequently asked questions.
What is an N95 respirator?
N95 respirators are face masks made from several layers of plastic polymers. They’re woven tightly to prevent microscopic particles, like viruses and bacteria, from entering your airways.
The thing that makes N95 respirators especially unique is their middle layer. There, the fabric features an electrostatic charge, upgrading the masks’ efficiency to more than 95%.
What’s the difference between an N95 respirator and a KN95 respirator?
Many people assume that N95 and KN95 respirators are the same things. Though they are similar, there are distinct differences. For example, in China, KN95 masks are considered the standard in medical settings. In the United States, N95 masks are the standard. The other main difference is that K95 respirators have a seam down the middle, allowing you to fold the mask in half.
Can I wear an N95 or KN95 respirator more than once?
N95 and KN95 masks are designed for single-use, but it’s possible to recycle them and prevent contamination. Doing so can save you money and prevent unnecessary plastic waste from reaching landfills.
Is there any way to reuse N95 or KN95 masks?
The easiest way to reuse your N95 or KN95 masks is to rotate through them. To do that, you need to start with at least four clean masks. Label the outside of each mask with a number (i.e. #1, #2, #3, and #4).
If you need to wear a mask, put on #1. When you come home at the end of the day, take mask #1 off and put it inside a clean paper bag. Leave that bag alone for at least three days at room temperature.
The next day, wear mask #2. Follow the same steps until day five rolls around. At that point, it’s safe to rewear mask #1.
Is it safe to heat an N95 mask?
Yes. It’s okay to heat a N95 mask for short periods. This article, published in the Journal of Medicine, recommends setting your oven or towel warmer to 70°C (158°F). Then, hang the ear loops of your mask(s) from a plastic or wooden clip and make sure they’re at least six inches away from hot metal. Lastly, set a timer for 60 minutes and remove your masks afterward.
Can I boil my N95 mask?
Yes. If heating your mask isn’t an option, you can disinfect it with boiling water. First, bring a pot of water to a boil. Then, carefully submerge your mask’s respirator in the water while holding the earloops. After five minutes, remove the mask and hang it up to air dry.
*Important note: Boiling water may warp your mask depending on the materials it's made of. To reduce the risk of permanent damage, avoid stirring the water.
Can I steam clean an N95 mask?
Yes. Steam cleaning is another easy way to extend the longevity of an N95. To ensure the best results, The Journal of Emergency Medicine recommends setting your steam cleaner to a temperature of 125°C (257°F). Then, steam each mask for five minutes.
Can I wash my N95 mask with soap and water?
No. Washing your N95 mask with soap and warm water will destroy the electrostatic charge, preventing the respirator from working correctly.
Can I clean my N95 mask with isopropyl alcohol?
No. Cleaning your N95 mask with isopropyl alcohol or another liquid cleaning agent will destroy the electrostatic charge and prevent the respirator from working correctly.
Can N95 masks be cleaned with vaporized hydrogen peroxide?
Yes. A team of researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently discovered a way to safely clean and reprocess N95 respirators with vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP).
VHP is a standard decontamination practice used in various industries. The study found it can increase the effectiveness of N95 respirators for up to 25 use cycles.
Can I reuse an N95 mask if I have a cold or the flu?
Yes, you can reuse an N95 if you have a cold or the flu. That said, if you’re feeling sick and might be contagious, it’s always best to stay home. Once you’ve fully recovered, throw the mask away.
How many times can I wear an N95 mask safely?
The number of times you can safely wear an N95 mask depends on various factors, including the material it’s made of and the environment you’re in.
If you regularly clean or cycle through your masks, you may be able to keep them for several weeks. Still, if you notice any signs of general wear-and-tear, like tattered earloops or a respirator that doesn’t fit snugly to your face, throw it away. With highly contagious variants, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Can I wash an N95 or KN95 respirator in the dishwasher?
No. Putting an N95 or KN95 respirator in the dishwasher destroys the mask’s protective ability and eliminates the electric charge. There are only a few ways to safely clean and reuse these respirators, including mask rotation, heating, steam cleaning, and boiling.
How do I store an N95 mask that I’m reusing?
Put any N95 or KN95 mask you plan on reusing in a clean paper bag as soon as you take it off. Leave the paper bag off the ground in an area of your home that’s dry and at room temperature.
We hope you find this FAQ for reusing N95 and KN95 respirators useful. If you have additional questions about any of the masks or PPE we carry here at WellBefore, please call or text +1 (214) 416-9009 or send an email to email@example.com. We’re here to help and look forward to assisting you!