The number of N95 masks being bought and worn have increased in recent history due to the COVID pandemic. N95 masks are designed to be disposable, but can N95 masks be reused and what is their impact on the environment? We find out in this article.
What is An N95 Mask?
An N95 mask is a face covering that is worn so it covers the nose and mouth. N95 masks are different from surgical masks because they are designed to filter out a greater number of particles and are lab tested to ensure efficiency.
The standard these masks are required to meet is filtering out 95% of all particles larger than 0.3 microns. The ‘N’ in N95 stands for Non-Oil which means they are effective when used in environments that don’t contain oil contaminated particulates.
N95 masks are also known as filtering facepiece respirators and are regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
What are N95 Masks Made From?
N95 masks are made from electrostatic non-women polypropylene which is a type of plastic derived from petroleum.
Some N95 masks also include a plastic valve in the centre which is designed to reduce resistance during exhalation.
Are N95 Masks Reusable?
Yes, N95 masks can be reused.
Under normal conditions, an N95 mask is designed to be disposed of after every use, whether interacting with a patient in hospital or shopping at a grocery store. Due to shortages and the high prices of face masks, this guidance has changed.
The CDC’s recommendations for healthcare workers experiencing limited PPE supplies include:
- Wearing masks for “a prolonged period,” and “beyond the manufacturer designated shelf-life for fit testing and training.”
- Using masks “similar to NIOSH approved respirators without NIOSH approval,” such as KN95 masks.
- That masks are reworn “with limited reuse.”
Can You Clean N95 Masks?
A scientific study conducted by Dr. Pascal Juang and published in April 2020 produced several findings surrounding N95 mask cleaning:
- You should rotate between three to four masks. Wear one per day and then let it rest for three to four days.
- N95 masks can be heated to 70 C (158 F) for 60 minutes.
- N95 masks can be boiled for five minutes.
- Steam cleaning N95 masks at 125 C (257 F) for five minutes is effective in cleaning them.
This study also found that using soap and water to clean N95 masks is ineffective.
N95 masks can be reused which is great news for our natural environment. Instead of throwing them away after a single use, consider cleaning them and reusing them to limit the number going to landfill.
Most N95 masks can’t be recycled, so reusing them is the best way to protect the environment.