Face masks and respirators are essential Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). We use them in construction, the medical field, and various other industries. N99 masks get used to filter out harmful particles and prevent the spread and contraction of infectious diseases.
N99 respirators are the most effective face-covering option available, but many people want to know what to look for when purchasing one and if they can wash and reuse them. Let’s find out.
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N99 mask or disposable respirator is a specific type of face-covering to filter what the user is breathing in. These masks have two principal defining characteristics:
- N99 masks form a tight seal against your face so that when you breathe in, the airflow coming in and out of your nose and mouth passes through the filtration material without leaking from the mask’s edges.
- N99 and N95 respirator materials must have the capacity to trap at least 99% of particles from entering the user’s mouth and nose while breathing.
These characteristics mean that, unlike ordinary cave coverings, the N99 respirator seals tightly and has a high filtration capacity.
N99 masks provide the
most protection, filtering out 99% of airborne particles, but that doesn’t mean that they are all equal. Here’s what you should consider before you purchase an N99 face mask:
- The mask’s useful life is dependent upon its filters, which are the most important element of any efficient face mask. Consider the quality, type, and a number of filters that your N99 mask will use.
- Carbon filters are the most efficient at filtering out viruses, bacteria, and chemicals.
- N99 masks with breathing valves or micro-ventilators make talking and breathing easier.
- N99 masks come in various sizes; ensure that the one you choose covers your entire mouth, nose, and chin. A face mask that doesn’t fit properly is essentially useless.
- Buy certified N99 masks; you want to use one that’s of the highest quality possible.
- Reusable N99 masks are an environmentally friendly and economical option, but they have a higher up-front cost.
- If you engage in lots of physical activity or already have breathing difficulties, you can find N99 masks with two breathing valves to help you breathe easier.
N99 masks are disposable filtering respirators. Ideally, you only use them once, and only you. Discard your N99 mask whenever it becomes contaminated or exposed to dangerous particles throughout the day.
But, during times where many people are wearing respirators and masks throughout the day, the CDC has put out information on how to sterilize N99 masks. While they don’t recommend that you reuse masks unless, in an emergency situation, you can sterilize your N99 mask for reuse.
- The mask must remain effective against COVID-19.
- The sterilization must not affect the filtration capabilities.
- It must not have an impact on the fit of the user’s face.
- The mask must still be safe for the user (no off-gassing of chemical vapors).
- Ethylene Oxide causes concerns for off-gassing.
- Ionizing Radiation can degrade filter performance.
- The use of microwaves can melt the respirator near metal components and compromise the fit.
- Autoclaves, high temperatures, and steam can cause filter degradation.
There are three methods showing the most potential to decontaminate N99 masks: using moist heat, vaporous hydrogen peroxide, or exposing the masks to UV radiation. Note that every mask should get inspected for damage or degradation and pass a seal check before being worn again.
A group of doctors, scientists, and other professionals formed a group called N95DECON to research and test different sanitizing methods for face masks. While these methods have been researched thoroughly, they have not gone through extensive testing yet.
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This method kills resistant bacteria spores and viruses. 3M has used this method to sanitize masks up to 20 times without seeing any degradation, but when sterilized with higher doses, the filters become less efficient. The machines to perform sanitizing are dangerous and require extensive training for the operator.
Using UV radiation stops the viruses related to coronavirus without affecting the masks filtering ability for 10-20 sterilizations. However, the UV light can break down the straps and face pieces, and it can be challenging to expose the lower layers to the radiation. High doses of UV light can break down the material of the mask itself.
Heating N99 masks at 60-75 degrees C for half an hour can stop viruses related to COVID-19, but it has not been tested on the coronavirus itself. This is an effective method to sanitize facemasks, as heating them at 60 degrees C and 80% humidity does not seem to damage their filtration capabilities.
The CDC also tested sterilizing masks with steam and liquid hydrogen peroxide. They used steam bags in low-powered microwaves to kill bacteria without damaging the face mask up to three times. They also noted that soaking an N99 respirator in 6% liquid hydrogen peroxide for half an hour didn’t affect filtration, but they did not test fit integrity afterward.
When sterilizing N99 face masks, do not: Use soapy water; this degrades the masks’ materials and impacts its ability to filter small particles properly.
Use alcohol or bleach; this affects the mask’s ability to filter harmful materials efficiently.
Assume it’s clean after overnight storage; the coronavirus can survive for three or more days on certain materials.
When purchasing an N99 mask washable, it is essential to buy high-quality respirators from a reputable source. Bielcor is a safety industry leader that only offers field-tested and extensively researched products.
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