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The lifespan of your N95 or KN95 mask



With COVID-19 cases still high in much of the country thanks to the continued spread of omicron, it’s important to be equipped with an effective mask. Currently, N95s and KN95s can still be difficult to access for the general public in the U.S, it’s reasonable to consider re-wearing one that you may already have.

The CDC recently updated its mask recommendations to clarify that, while all masks can be helpful, N95s(technically respirators, not masks) will offer the “highest level of protection” against particles in the air, including those that may contain the coronavirus. However, whether or not one needs to get a better mask isn’t so clear cut.

Upgrading your mask right now “certainly makes sense and it doesn’t necessarily hurt,” Dr Bernard Camins, medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System. “The only potential issue is that the better masks are certainly more uncomfortable.”

Any mask is better than no mask, says Dr Raed Dweik of the Respiratory Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. He further agreed that N95s and KN95s tend to be less comfortable. “So you have to find the right balance,” he explained.

If you cannot get a proper respirator, double-masking also works. Simply wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask.

But how many times can you keep wearing an N95 or KN95 respirator? The most important thing is to pay attention to the fit of the mask. After which, if it begins to lose shape, visibly soiled or gets wet, then it’s time to replace it.

Preserving the masks requires proper storage of said masks. Once you’ve used them, you should keep your masks in a dry, safe space. A plain brown paper bag will do, which will allow the mask to dry off and keep it out of the way.

You can keep using the same mask for quite a while. But there are three key signs that it might be time to replace your mask, the experts said:

When is it time to replace an N95 or KN95 mask? These simple guidelines are all you need.

Does it still hold its shape? The most important issue is that it keeps its shape because that’s where the N95’s true filtration powers come from. “If it’s all scrunched up and when you put it on your face there are holes between the mask and your skin, then it’s misshapen and you shouldn’t be wearing it,” Camins said.

Is the mask soiled? If the mask is visibly soiled (like, there’s dirt or several days’ worth of makeup caked on there) you should swap it out.

Does the mask feel wet? If the mask gets a little bit moist, it can still be used as long as it dries out and is still able to fit tightly to your skin. But if it feels damp (like from sweat or rain), it’s time to get a new one because once it gets wet, it’s less able to hold its shape. And if you start to notice a weird smell, it’s probably a good idea to use a new mask.


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