Is NIOSH N95 Mask Reusable?

Critical supplies of N95 filtering facepiece respirators may potentially become depleted during wide-spread outbreaks of infectious respiratory diseases. To counteract this deep-rooted issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has formulated guidelines suggesting the reuse of N95 respirators under certain conditions to conserve supplies while safeguarding healthcare workers. Part of these CDC guidelines recommends that medical institutions, including organizations in the field of disaster emergency response, should minimize the number of individuals who need to wear N95 respirators in carrying out health-related responsibilities.

In the case of N95 respirator depletion, CDC also suggests the use of various alternative filtering facepiece respirators like full facepiece air-purifying respirators, powered air-purifying respirators, and elastomeric half-mask. Healthcare institutions must prioritize those professionals at the highest risk of contracting infections, as the guidelines indicated.

Can I Reuse my Filtering Facepiece Respirator?

A filtering facepiece respirator like NIOSH-certified N95 can be reused in most industrial workplace conditions as part of the employer’s effort to protect workers against potential respiratory complications. Reuse refers to the practice of wearing the same N95 respirator multiple times for a few days or during a full work shift. In this practice, the NIOSH-approved N95 respirator is stored between usages and is worn again before the next particulate exposure.

You can wear a filtering facepiece respirator until the unit becomes damaged or causes you to breathe with difficulty, unless the manufacturer suggests a specific duration of use, for instance, for “single-use only.” In some instances, employers may exclude the reuse of N95 respirators when the wearer becomes exposed to certain infectious agents capable of being transmitted to another individual. Nevertheless, N95 respirators should only be reused by the same wearer to prevent potential body-to-body disease transmission.

A NIOSH-certified N95 respirator should be stored according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. For optimal protection during storage, the respirator should be kept away from direct sunlight, excessive moisture, heavy dust, contamination, and damaging chemicals. You must also keep your N95 respirator in a way that prevents deforming the exhalation valve, straps, and the facepiece itself.

Length of Use

The number of times a NIOSH-certified N95 mask is reused should be limited up to a certain extent regardless if you wear it in an exterior or interior setting. However, for all types of N95 respirators and models, there’s no specific maximum number of safe reuse whether the user wants to wear it more than once. Some research studies even indicate that you can wear the same N95 respirator up to 20 times, depending on what model and filtering capacity, provided that the device remains undamaged.

Unfortunately, multiple usages of respirators may dramatically reduce the facepiece fit because of the stresses (pulling and pushing) imparted on head straps on top of its reduced capacity to collect particles, thus affecting the wearer’s level of protection in the process. It is advisable to consult the N95 respirator manufacturer for further guidance regarding the use of their filtering devices.

Workplace Precautions

While reuse of N95 respirators can be safely practiced in many industrial workplace situations, extra precautions should be taken in certain locations where handling of contaminated respirators may possibly increase the risk of infection for the user. Some pathogens present in diagnostic labs, biosafety labs, and hospitals, for instance, can remain infectious over the surface of the respirator and nearby surroundings for extended hours. These pathogens can possibly be transferred to you when you touch the surface of your respirator, thus increasing your risk for infection if you leave it unnoticed. In healthcare settings, the reuse of N95 respirators has been recommended for numerous situations, including handling patients with tuberculosis, non-life-threatening medical procedures, and disaster response operations.

Respirator Extended Use Recommendations

Extended use of N95 respirator may benefit users requiring to use the respirator for longer hours without interruption, though wearing discomfort can become inevitable. This practice is somewhat favored over reuse as extended use involves less touching of the respirator, hence decreasing the risk of contact transmission. If extended use is considered, the respirator must maintain its tight fit while continuously providing protection and efficient particle collection.

N95 respirators can generally perform within their design specifications for at least eight hours without interruption, except for certain conditions like when the respirator becomes contaminated with infectious agents or if the wearer needs to remove the mask for practical reasons. The maximum length of steady use for N95 respirators in enclosed healthcare workplaces is often dictated by hygienic and safety concerns. CDC recommendations for extended use of respirators include:

  • Application of barriers to prevent contamination from droplet sprays
  • Additional training reminding healthcare workers to minimize contact with the surface of their respirators
  • Strict implementation of hand and oral hygiene practices
  • Strict adherence to proper wear of personal protective equipment during a work shift
  • Proper disposal of N95 respirators when contaminated with pathogens, blood, and laboratory chemicals
  • Use of a cleanable face shield over an N95 respirator to reduce further contamination
  • Proper disposal of N95 respirators when contaminated with nasal secretions or body fluids from others (respiratory droplets and sweat)