We all want to be as safe as possible when it comes to masking up. As a result of the new CDC recommendations, many people are switching from cloth masks to N95 masks. However, these protective disposable masks are costly, costing upwards of $1 per mask before price gouging.
When it comes to using a N95 mask, it’s fair to want to get the most bang for your buck—but what is the proper technique for washing and reusing one?
Dr. Jen Caudle, a specialist in the field, has posted a YouTube video on how to get the most out of your mask’s longevity. No, this does not imply that you should wash your mask with soap and water or disinfect it with alcohol.
Using alcohol to disinfect your N95 mask, according to Dr. Caudle, is not a smart idea because it can reduce the mask’s effectiveness.
“The number ’95’ after the ‘N,’ that stands for the fact that these masks filter out at least 95 percent of particles that you breathe,” Dr. Caudle says. “One of the ways they do that is through an electrostatic charge that is present in some of the materials that are used to make the N95. Using alcohol [to clean the mask] can deactivate this charge that is definitely needed to help filter out particles, which is not what you want.”
But don’t reach for the soap and water just yet instead of the alcohol cleaners. This cleaning approach is also a “no-no,” according to Dr. Caudle.
“[Washing with soap and water] can potentially disrupt any charges that your mask needs to conduct the business it needs to conduct,” she says. “It also may change the fit or the shape.”
Instead of washing a N95 mask, Dr. Caudle recommends using “the paper bag method” to destroy any potential pollutants between uses. The doctor recommends rotating about five masks and storing each one in a closed paper bag for at least a day or more after use.
“The paper bag basically keeps this mask from being out in the environment and contaminating other surfaces or things in your home,” she says. “The other thing is it gives it a place for other contaminants—viruses, bacteria, whatever—to die off and have it in an enclosed space to do that. These bags also tend to be breathable, which I think is a really good thing.”
Despite the fact that some studies suggest steam-cleaning a mask can help disinfect a N95, she believes the technique is hard, risky, and simple to get wrong.
As per Yahoo, you might also be wondering how long your N95s can be rotated. Dr. Caudle says in a separate video that in an ideal world, N95, KN95, and KF94 masks would be single-use only. However, that is frequently the recommendation for a hospital context rather than for the general public.
She claims that most experts believe it is safe to reuse N95, KN95, and KF94 masks for the general population. However, the CDC recommends only reusing a single mask up to five times—as long as it isn’t soiled or damaged—before throwing it out.