While more health experts are urging Americans to replace fabric masks with N95 or KN95 masks, others are explaining how often a single mask should be used.
Omicron is even more contagious through thick fabric face masks than other known coronavirus variants. Virginia Tech researcher Linsey Marr told NPR that more and more people are buying surgical or N95 masks: “Masks made of fabric don’t cut it with an omicron.”
Although the N95 and KN95 masks are designed for single use only, according to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can use the masks multiple times.
So how many times can you reuse your masks and what is the best way to store and clean them?
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Can you reuse N95 and KN95 masks?
CDC guidelines recommend wearing masks N95 and KN95 no more than five times, but some experts have advised to extend the life of masks and keep them clean.
Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, an infectious disease doctor at OhioHealth, said he would recommend everyone to buy an N95 pack and rotate when wearing each mask.
“If you rotate your masks, wash your hands and keep them well, you can use a little more than five of them,” Gastaldo said.
According to Gastaldo, it is very important to clean your hands before touching the mask, and keeping them outside or “in the heat” will help keep the mask dry and clean. Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an infectious disease doctor at Boston Medical Center, echoed Gastaldo’s recommendation.
“For N95, we recommend changing (the mask) every day,” said Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an infectious disease doctor at Boston Medical Center. “But you can turn them around. If you have three masks (for example), you can number them and replace them. “
Assoumou added that you may see signs on when the N95 or KN95 masks should be discarded, such as “breakage, elongated tape, or deterioration of the mask”.
The CDC said that every time you put on and take off your N95 mask, the straps weaken and eventually they “can’t produce enough strength to stick firmly to your face.”
How to store masks?
According to the CDC, heating is one of the best strategies for cleaning the N95 mask – the mask can be heated to a maximum of 158 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes. It is recommended to hang the mask in the oven using a wooden or plastic clip.
N95 masks can also be steamed and boiled, it is not recommended to use soap or water to clean the mask if the plastic strips are not open.
“A lot of people keep the mask in a brown paper bag to keep it away from surface dirt and germs. Others keep it in the heat to kill any germs and keep it dry,” Gastaldo said. “All of this cleansing will keep you away from the N95 and KN95 masks.”
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