Using N95 masks on a daily basis can quickly become costly, especially if you have to go out a lot of times during this pandemic. If you just purchase real N95 masks for your everyday use without reusing them, your stock will quickly run out, which means that you’ll have to buy more. In this article, we will discuss the safety and reliability of reusing N95 masks, so you can cut down on your expenses. Without further ado, let’s start:
Is it safe to reuse N95 masks?
It is well known that reusing N95 masks is not recommended. They are designed to be single use only,
Despite that, there is a study that N95 respirators can be safely reused, as long they undergo proper decontamination before reusing. This study is known as Assessment of N95 respirator decontamination and re-use for SARS-CoV-2, conducted by Fischer RJ, Morris DH, van Doremalen N, et al this 2020. We will discuss the scope and the results of this study later in this article.
It is advisable to reuse N95 masks if there are not enough resources to buy new ones
As stated earlier in this article, N95 masks are created and designed in a way that they are only used once. In a usual scenario, N95 masks should not be reworn, decontaminated, and reused. However, we are not in a “normal” time. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought shortages of n95 masks (and other medical equipment, such as PPEs and surgical masks). During this time, disposable equipment such as N95 masks are becoming more and more expensive, and sometimes they are not even available due to extreme shortage. For this reason, it is far better to properly decontaminate and reuse N95 masks rather than wasting valuable resources on trying to purchase new ones.
Study on reusing N95 masks
In the study mentioned above, researchers have tested 4 techniques of decontaminating N95 masks. They are UV radiation, exposure to heat, ethanol, and using vaporized hydrogen peroxide.
The researchers looked into the ability of the 4 techniques to properly decontaminate N95 masks from SARS-CoV-2. Aside from that, they also tested the effects of the decontamination technique on the function of N95 masks.
Out of the 4 techniques, only vaporized hydrogen peroxide was able to completely decontaminate the virus. It only took 16 minutes for vaporized hydrogen peroxide to eliminate 1 out of 1 million viral particles. Meanwhile, Ethanol took just 13 minutes, however, it did not completely decontaminate the virus. This finding is consistent with other studies on using ethanol for decontamination.
All 4 of the tested methods to decontaminate COVID-19 has reduced the reliability of the masks, becoming substandard for 2 or more decontaminations.
According to the results of this study, using vaporized hydrogen peroxide is the most suitable choice for the decontamination of N95 masks without affecting the reliability of the masks. However, only a single decontamination is possible in each mask, since there is a risk of severely reducing the function of the mask with two or more decontaminations.