The ultimate purpose of a face mask is that it provides a direct barrier for your face from particles such as dust or bacteria. It is an essential item of personal protective equipment (PPE) in medical, industrial and construction industries that limits the number of particles able to be breathed in. And in the age of Covid-19, of course, the right type of face mask helps to prevent the infection to spread on other people via coughing or sneezing.
Most masks are made of plain cloth are not resistant to contamination. In fact, the virus can survive on them for several days.
Authorities worldwide are advising people to wear face masks at all times until this pandemic is over to make sure everyone has some protection from infection. Still, those masks that provide the best protection, such as N95, are harder and harder to find, making people turn to improvisation. Paragon Tools still has face masks available for purchase, including the N95 masks and other protective equipment like hazmat suits and safety glasses.
N95 masks are disposable but are reusable – to an extent – depending on how they are used. You can use them multiple times over their lifetime. The number of hours the filter in these masks lasts generally is stated on the packaging – you can use them up to the recommended filter life. If your mask breaks or cracks, then you must replace it immediately. Such masks are compromised and are not effective in providing complete protection.
When it comes to viruses you need to be more careful though. You need to ensure that any contamination from the outside of the mask is not transferred inside the mask, by taking it off, while in storage, or even things like scratching your nose.
Here are some tips that you can use to extend the usage of your N95. Keep reading this article to learn them.
1. Store them Properly after use
The habit you see everyone adopting is simply folding the mask after the usage and placing it in their bag or pocket. Avoid this at all costs because these masks require proper storage. If you do this, you run the risk of infecting yourself next time you wear the mask as bacteria that is on the outside of the mask can get inside the mask which you later put on your nose and mouth.
The best thing to do is:
- Wash your hands before touching your mask
- Remove carefully touching the earloop or headbands only.
Hang them in a special place without them touching each other. Being close and touching can be the cause of cross-contamination
2. Protect the Face Mask from External Contamination
These days we see N95 masks worn increasingly by the medical staff working on the front line, as they are more exposed to the covid-19 pandemic. The mask’s outer layer is in this situation particularly exposed to contamination, shortening the time you should wear the face mask.
A good idea is to protect the outer layer of your N95 mask by placing one more layer over it, for example, a surgical mask. In cases of close contact with the virus, this will provide additional protection.
After the use, dispose of the surgical masks and keep the N95 face mask.
3. Don’t Touch it Unless you Really Need to
For as long as possible, avoid touching the mask with your hands and other objects that might contaminate it. It is hard, especially when you have to wear it for most of your working hours. And a lot of us are just used to touching our face, and we are not really even aware of it.
You will have to touch it to put it on or take it off, of course. But just be aware that you should wash your hands and disinfect them before and after doing so. This will prevent the mask from contamination and extend its potential usage. If you have been using the additional layer across your mask, then make sure you wash your hands before and after removing that layer. Your hands should be disinfected asap, to prevent the virus from moving from your hands to your face from where it can easily enter the respiratory system.
Another option is also to use a sterile pair of gloves when putting on and off the mask. The gloves are for single-use and should be disposed of after touching the mask.
4. Sterilize it at Home
Already used masks can be sterilized several times, but this requires special equipment in hospitals and healthcare centers. But how to sterilize it in your home? There is one technique involving the help of a cooking pot. According to a study on respirator cleaning by P Juang and P Tsai, this method retains 92.4-98.5 filtering efficiency.
- First do not use the mask for 3-4 days. The virus should be dead after 3 days.
- Then use plastic or wooden pegs to hang the mask in your oven (do not let it touch any metal). Heat the masks to 70°C or 158°F for 60 mins.
- The last step is to steam the mask. Pour two centimeters of water and then add a steam maker you usually use for fruits and vegetables. In case you don’t have this steamer, you can add a metal grid in the pot. Cover the pot with the lid, and start heating it on the stove. When the water starts boiling, it needs to continue for at least 5 minutes for sterilization and then air dried.
In case of an emergency, there is a possibility to sterilize the mask with the steam iron help. Cover the mask with the piece of cotton cloth, and start ironing over it, letting the steam out of the iron. While doing so, be careful not to catch the parts made of plastic and rubber that can destroy the mask. This type of sterilization is better than no sterilization and should be done only in emergency times.