Scientists Reveal How Long You Should Wear The Same Face Mask

Hannah Smith


Scientists Reveal How Long You Should Wear The Same Face MaskAlamy

Debate about face masks has raged for much of the pandemic, with conflicting advice circulating on what types of mask to wear and how effective they are at stopping the spread.

Studies have found that wearing N95, KN95 or KF94 masks (the thicker, origami-style ones) offers more protection, with a spring 2021 study revealing that it would take 2.5 hours for a person with Covid-19 who wasn’t wearing a mask to pass it on to someone wearing a N95 mask, compared with just 30 minutes for someone wearing a surgical mask.

The issue is, unlike cloth coverings N95 masks aren’t machine-washable, and unlike the three-layer surgical masks, they’re not necessarily single-use either.

N95 mask (Alamy)Alamy

As a result, there’s been some confusion over just how long you can keep using the same higher-quality mask. Should you throw them away after a couple of days, or are you okay to keep it until it’s visibly worn out?

According to scientists… it varies.

It doesn’t sound like helpful advice, but ultimately health experts say that there are a number of variables that can affect how long an N95 mask stays effective.

‘It all depends on the duration, what type of setting you’re in and what you’re doing in that setting,’ University of California San Francisco Health Safety Officer Matt Carlson told the San Francisco Chronicle. ‘If the respirator is not compromised, you can safely reuse it.’

For starters, masks should generally be tight-fitting, with the mask creating a seal around your face to prevent particles from getting in.

The longer you wear the mask, the looser it becomes, with experts saying that touching, adjusting and removing the mask will cause it to loosen over time.

Discarded masks (Alamy)Alamy

Once the mask no longer creates a seal, or if the filters are visibly wet or dirty, it’s time to throw it away, Carlson said, adding that people could potentially have a number of N95 masks in rotation to prolong their use, putting them in a paper bag or container to keep them clean when they’re not in use.

Another tip is to take into account where you’re wearing your mask. Some health officials say that in everyday settings, like grocery stores or other shops, you could potentially safely reuse the same respirator for up to a week, while if you visit a high-risk location, like a hospital, you should throw the mask away at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to sanitise N95 masks, and concerns have been expressed about the potential environmental cost of throwing them away. Most masks are non-recyclable, and should be ‘securely disposed’ in a bag to ensure no one else comes into contact with them.

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Topics: Health, COVID-19, Face Masks, Now


San Francisco Chronicle
  1. San Francisco Chronicle

    How long can I keep using the same N95 respirator mask? Here’s what Bay Area experts say

Hannah Smith
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