Can N95 masks be used more than once?

What an N95 mask looks like.

Early in the pandemic, we were told to let health care workers have the limited supply of N95 masks, and the other types were good enough for general public use.

But supplies have improved, Omicron variant is much more transmissible, and now health experts recommend N95s for everyone. But they’re not cheap, so can you use reuse them?

A story in the Seattle Times says (here) that “N95 and KN95 respirators are designed for a single use, so reusing them is not ideal,” but “the general public should be able to get away with wearing them a few times before they need to be thrown out” by sanitizing them after each use.

You can do that by storing them in a paper bag for 24 to 48 hours between uses. This gives any virus you picked up on the mask while in public time to die. Keeping it in a bag during that period keeps it from contaminating surfaces or exposing anyone, if it does have virus on it.

One doctor recommended rotating three masks, wearing them every third day, and putting numbers on them to keep track. Other doctors said a mask shouldn’t be used more than 5 times. If it’s dirty, damaged, or has been used in “close contact” with an infected person it shouldn’t be reused at all.

And, of course, make sure you buy real — not counterfeit — N95 masks. Go here to find out which masks to buy and where to get them.

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