Can you use N95 masks again? Here’s how to care for them

Experts recommend N95, KN95 masks

Many people still have questions about wearing masks and how to care for them. The pandemic has changed and so have rules about masks. A cloth mask used to be enough to protect you, but now experts say we need to rethink masks for the best protection.

DETROIT – Many people still have questions about wearing masks and how to care for them.

The pandemic has changed and so have rules about masks. A cloth mask used to be enough to protect you, but now experts say we need to rethink masks for the best protection.

Experts are now encouraging people to use surgical masks along with KN95 and N95 masks. But those masks aren’t cheap. They’re also meant to be thrown away eventually -- so how long can you use them?

Can you reuse N95 and KN95 masks?

Local 4′s Dr. Frank McGeorge said to reuse those types of masks you should let time do its magic on them.

Any virus that may have been trapped by your mask will die within three days at normal household temperatures and humidity. In the early days of the pandemic, the masks were in short supply and we routinely rotated through three or more masks, simply changing to the next one that’s been sitting for at least three days.

Do not store masks in plastic bags that prevent them from drying out between uses. You should either hang them or keep them in a paper bag.

Can you wash your N95 or KN95 masks? No. They cannot be washed or even decontaminated with an alcohol spray. The reason has to do with how they work. While the fibers of the mask are tightly woven in a random pattern to capture any particles in the air.

The real benefit comes from a very slight electrostatic charge that’s imparted to the material. That charge helps attract microscopic particles to the fibers and enhances filtration. Washing them or spraying certain chemicals on them neutralizes that charge. The mask will still filter better than most cloth masks, but without the electrostatic charge, they won’t be as effective.

You shouldn’t reuse masks more than five times. Signs that it’s time to replace them earlier include difficulty breathing, loosening elastic and if they become visibly dirty.

Read: Complete Michigan COVID coverage


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