Are N95 and KN95 masks reusable and how should you store them?
As more and more health experts urge Americans to swap their cloth masks for either a N95 or KN95 mask, others are explaining how often to reuse the single mask.
Omicron is far more transmissible than other known coronavirus variants even through thick fabric face masks. More people are purchasing surgical or N95 masks as health experts Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech told NPR, "Cloth masks are not going to cut it with omicron."
Although N95 and KN95 masks were created for single use, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people can get several uses out of the masks.
So just how many times can you reuse your mask and what's the best way to store and clean them?
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Can you reuse N95 and KN95 masks?
CDC guidelines recommend wearing your N95 and KN95 mask for no more than five uses, however, some experts offered tips on how to prolong your mask wear and keep them clean.
Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, a physician who specializes in infectious diseases with OhioHealth told USA TODAY he recommends each person purchase a pack of N95's and rotate when they wear each mask.
"If you're rotating your masks, washing your hands and storing them well, you can get five to a little bit more uses with them," Gastaldo said.
Gastaldo said sanitizing your hands before touching the mask is crucial and storing them outside or "in heat" will help keep the mask dry and clean. Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, echoed Gastaldo's recommendation.
“For an N95, we’d recommend you switch (the mask) every day,” Assoumou told USA TODAY. “But, you can rotate them. If you have three masks, (for example), you could number them and switch them around.”
Assoumou added you can catch signs of when to throw out your N95 or KN95 mask such as “fraying, stretched out straps or a deterioration of the mask.”
The CDC said each time you wear and take off your N95 mask the straps weaken and eventually they won't be able to “generate enough force to create a tight seal with the face.”
How should you store your masks?
Heating is one of the best strategies for cleaning an N95 mask, according to the CDC – the mask can be heated at a maximum of 158 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes. It recommends hanging the mask in your oven using a wooden or plastic clip.
The N95 masks can also be steamed and boiled if the plastic straps are not exposed, it's not recommended to use soap or water to clean the mask.
"Lots of people will store their mask in a brown paper bag to keep it away from dirt and germs on surfaces. Others will store it outside in the heat to kill off any germs and keep it dry," Gastaldo said. "All of this cleaning will ensure you can use your N95 and KN95 mask for longer."
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