Can N95 Masks Be Washed?
The short answer to this common question is no. N95 respirator masks are intended for a single use. Any effort to disinfect the mask may limit its ability to perform to the standards set forth by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The processes currently available to effectively decontaminate an N95 face mask may disinfect the mask, but will ultimately destroy its ability to achieve a proper fit or maintain filtration and breathability standards. Additionally, decontamination may also pose chemical reaction or inhalation dangers if any amount of the chemicals used to disinfect the mask remain. Unfortunately, washing an N95 face mask may actually pose more danger to the frontline worker it is intended to protect.
How To Extend the Life of an N95 Face Mask
While the CDC and NIOSH do not currently endorse any decontamination methods, they do provide guidelines for extending the life of respirator masks. When there is an expected PPE shortage, the CDC recommends utilizing contingency strategies of extended use. Should these shortages continue despite extended use, the CDC then offers crisis strategies for mask reuse. However, the CDC strongly urges healthcare facilities to only use these methods when there is an expected or known shortage of N95 face masks.
CDC Recommendations for Extended Use of Respirator Masks
When there is an expected shortage of N95 face masks, the CDC provides contingency strategies for extending the use of respirator masks in order to "slow the burn" of the available PPE. Ordinarily, according to NIOSH guidelines, a new N95 respirator mask is used for each patient contact and then discarded. During an extended use, a healthcare worker uses one N95 face mask throughout close contact with multiple patients and then discards it after a prolonged period of time. Typically, filtration and fit standards can be maintained for as long as 8 hours, so long as the wearer is careful to avoid touching the mask throughout the prolonged period. This method of extended use is ideally limited to isolation areas where all patients have the same illness, such as COVID-19. The most significant danger in extended use of N95s is the potential for patient-to-patient contamination or otherwise spreading illnesses throughout the sterile healthcare facility during the prolonged period of use.
CDC Guidelines for Reusing an N95 Face Mask
When there are still PPE shortages even after healthcare facilities have implemented extended use practices, the CDC does offer guidelines for reusing N95 face masks. When reusing an N95 face mask, a healthcare professional removes the respirator mask after each encounter with a patient, stores it and then dons it before the next patient contact. Masks intended for reuse are often stored between uses in clearly marked paper bags. One mask should never be shared between healthcare workers.
When handling the mask between patient encounters, care must be taken to avoid contamination by touching the inside of the mask. An N95 face mask can be reused as long as it fits closely to the face and allows the healthcare worker to breathe easily. CDC guidelines suggest reusing a mask no more than five times. Regardless of that, a respirator mask should be discarded immediately if it becomes soiled with bodily fluids, either from the patient or healthcare worker. Because of the risks posed by reusing masks which may spread contamination or become distorted and fail to protect frontline workers from the spread of disease, respirator masks should only be reused when there is a severe shortage in supply.
Order Your N95 Face Masks from RB Medical Supply
At RB Medical Supply, we are passionate about protecting frontline workers during this time of great need. We are positioned as a top tier medical supplier for COVID-19 PPE kits and more. RB Medical Supply, a division of RB Sigma, LLC, provides a full line of high-quality, domestically made PPE, ensuring you don't have to compromise when it comes to protecting yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19. We offer N95 respirator masks, surgical masks and more – all manufactured in the heart of Northeast Ohio in our own Mentor facility. View our selection and place your order today.