How Long do N95 Masks Last?

Some medical professionals are experiencing a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), especially the N95 face mask. Not as though there have not been shortages in times of pandemic, but the level COVID19 has reached still very shocking to many. Hence respirators are essential to the safety of both the people’s exposure and the medical professionals who attend to the infected people.

In all, it is a general responsibility to ensure that we reduce to the barest minimum the spread of the coronavirus by taking all necessary precautions. Health workers increasingly now have no choice than to re-use the N95 face mask. Ideally, the N95 masks should be used only one and after that disposed of. But the reported shortage brought a necessity for means of decontamination and limited re-use.

N95 mask

Also, Peter Tsai, the inventor of the N95 mask, together with other scientists, is researching into approved methods of decontamination. Until then, the FDA and CDC have created specific options of extended use and limited re-use of the N95 facemask respirators. This recommendation applies strictly to medical workers and health practitioners who come in contact with infected patients more often. 

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended guide, as published by the CDC, extended use refers to wearing the same N95 facemask for long without removing. It may include close encounters with different patients with similar conditions and in the same medical facility. On the other hand, Limited re-use refers to the use of N95 respirators on multiple occasions while removing (doffing) and re-wearing (donning) at intervals. 

In other words, as long as the facemask remains functional under infection control procedures, the health worker can re-use the facemask for several times. This method of re-use is also a means of conserving the number of N95 usage in the case of limited supply. Other studies show that the N95 facemask can only be re-used up to two or three times to keep the functionality intact. The applied method includes ultraviolet light and vaporized hydrogen peroxide.
The procedure above is yet to be approved by either the CDC or FDA, yet it does not contradict the application of sterilizers, air purifiers, and disinfectants in infected or risky places. Also, the maximum approved time for continuous use of a face mask is 8 hours, or as soon as it is soiled. Users who intend to re-use the mask must not also forget that reduction in the functionality includes the weakening of the tight parts.

N95 masks

The elastic bands or strap may weaken and become longer, thereby leaving some spaces for particles and contaminants. Heat or cold may also affect these parts of the mask made of rubber polymer. It is also worthy of note that the FDA approves the use of the hydrogen vaporization (HPV) method only in cases of emergency.

In conclusion, to achieve viable decontamination, the CDC is currently considering two methods, including liquid hydrogen peroxide and steam. Already, the body disapproves of techniques that include sanitizer wiping, alcohol, bleach, baking, boiling, microwave (variable power setting and melting of metal part), ethylene oxide (which may poison the wearer), and soapy water.