Now that we know that we all need N95 masks, making sure we are prepared with them has become a top priority. How many do we need? How long does an N95 mask last? Where are the best places to buy them?
Experts and medical professionals have increasingly been coming out to warn us that the cloth masks and other alternative facial masks used last year just aren’t filtering out acceptable levels of the virus. The N95 mask is fast becoming the standard.
This is not only for our personal protection either. Having these types of masks may soon make all the difference in the number of freedoms we have on a daily basis, or not.
Here’s what you need to know about buying them, using them, and ensuring you have an adequate supply.
N95 masks are a specific type of particulate filtering respirator masks. They have long been the respiratory protection standard for protecting us and our lungs from toxins and infectious particles.
N95s are highly regulated. They are rigorously and strictly tested to meet detailed criteria. Each N95 product and manufacturer must be approved.
These masks are given unique approval numbers by NIOSH. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists approved suppliers, masks, and their manufacturer guidance for wearing instructions on their website. Including those offered by bielcor.com.
There are two main differences between the N-95 masks, and ineffective mask types like cloth face masks, and even cloth surgical masks.
It doesn’t matter how many layers your mask is, or it’s supposed filtration capacity if it doesn’t pass fit tests. A user seal check is important to be sure the filter material is doing its job at making sure the airborne particles you are breathing in and out are being filtered by the mask. Not just going around it
N95 masks are specifically designed to fit well and provide an acceptable seal.
- Filtration Effectiveness
What makes N95 facepiece respirators an N95 is really that it is proven to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles down to 3 microns in size.
Even if they pass fit test methods, other mask types just don’t filter out small enough bacterial spores, and fluids from patients.
Variations of N95 masks have been around for decades. They have been the standard for reliable protection for the respiratory system in a variety of important settings.
Continued innovation, specifically for infection prevention has made them even more effective in the last couple of years.
The N95 As A Dust Mask
The initial creation of the N95 was as a dust mask to save miners from toxic particles entering their airways and compromising their lungs with respiratory diseases.
Regulators coordinated on setting strict standards and criteria, as well as testing for N95s.
The N95 now has a wide range of applications for filtering out harmful dust. Beyond commercial and industrial work environments, this also applies to cities with poor air quality and high pollution levels. As well as when users are entering areas with the potential for mold or other contaminants in the air. Such as entering areas, buildings, and homes after a flood or hurricane.
In addition to protection from infectious disease and dust, one of the fast-emerging uses for N95s today is environmental conditions being faced in wildfire-prone areas.
Workers and residents need them to protect their lungs. Both when actively combating fires, at home when fires are raging nearby, and for returning to the scene after a fire.
The most common and glaringly obvious need for N95 masks today is for the COVID-19 pandemic.
N95 masks have become the most important part of transmission control and infection prevention. Experts continue to highlight the superior protection these masks offer. That is for both infectious patients, and to avoid infection in the first place.
Expect them to become even more front and center in COVID-19 response efforts. Especially with new strains of the virus. Like the Mu variant and Delta.
Sadly, while vaccines are still positioned as the primary method of combating the virus, new data coming out continues to show more and more risks of getting vaccinated and lower and lower effectiveness.
Moderna reports those who received its vaccine were twice as likely to contract COVID in 2021. Side effects in some age groups have included as much as a 6x increase in the chance of major heart problems. Compared to patients actually contracting the virus itself.
The bottom line is that everyone needs to be wearing masks. Regardless of vaccination status.
While vaccine mandates are spreading, including to some rental apartments, and businesses of all sizes, expect mask mandates to surpass those. Even if you are vaccinated.
Not only are businesses and agencies mandating face coverings in general, but we’ve seen the beginning of mandates for wearing N95 masks in particular. Such as with airlines and for travel.
Can you have too many N95 masks? How long will they last after you buy them?
While the N95, its filter material, and filter integrity are believed not to ever expire, manufacturers generally label their masks with a five-year shelf life.
This limitation is due to the impact of sunlight on elastic bands used as mask straps over a long period of time.
So, you should always rotate your mask supplies. Using the oldest first.
Of course, with the recent massive surge in demand for N95 masks, you are unlikely to find any for sale that isn’t brand new and is good for close to five years. Or longer.
In terms of hours of uninterrupted use, a crisis capacity strategy may allow for prolonged use for health care workers. According to the CDC, N95 masks can be used for up to eight hours.
Of course, if your mask is compromised and potentially contaminated or soiled before that, it should be disposed of and replaced immediately.
In most cases, most people will end up touching their masks, getting them dirty or wet well before eight hours. Removing masks, changing environments, and engaging with different groups of people are situations in which it makes sense to change out your mask as well.
N95s are designed as disposable masks.
These types of face masks and respirators should not be reused. They cannot be shared. Throw them away after the first use. Replace them with a fresh new mask.
While we faced limited supply and shortages before, and could again, there are affordable N95 masks available online. Affordable enough to maintain a healthy supply of clean masks for yourself, your family, and workers.
Only in an extreme emergency should you consider reusing a mask. As in, you have nothing else to cover your face with.
In an extreme emergency situation where you have run out of masks and didn’t order more early enough, there are some protocols being tested to extend their life for a second or third use.
Just remember, that no matter how good the cleaning methods are, the functional integrity of the mask will be jeopardized and lowered. No matter what respirator decontamination and the method you apply.
Washing masks in soapy water appears to be the worst thing you can do to a mask. This will only put the wearer in danger.
If you must, there are three things that might get you an extra use out of a mask.
Boiling or steaming masks, before letting them air dry is one option. Unfortunately, healthcare personnel seems divided on trying to find a balance between enough hit to kill the virus, and not too much hit that renders the mask useless.
Some hospital systems and facilities have been trialing ultraviolet light for sanitizing masks. However, due to the precision required in this decontamination method, it is not recommended to be tried at home.
The virus cannot live on surfaces forever. While medical experts and scientists are still very divided on exactly how long that is, time can help.
Only if your mask was not contaminated or dirtied in any way, you may try rotating masks. Meaning setting aside your used mask in a sterile environment for long enough for the virus particles to die. Then wearing it again. The longer you can leave them before using them again the better.
Hydrogen peroxide vaporization has reportedly been allowed for hospitals by the FDA. However, again, this is definitely not something anyone should attempt at home.
To be safe, maintain a supply of fresh, new masks at all times.
Get the best protection from viruses, diseases, dust, molds, and pollution with Bielcor N95 and N99 masks!