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Care and Maintenance of Your Face Mask

Taking care of your N95 or KN95 respirator will allow you to get maximum life and optimal performance.  There a few key things to always keep in mind regarding respirators.  For purposes of this discussion, we are going to assume that you are not a medical professional and therefore not exposed 24 / 7 to potential harmful viral particulates and bacteria.  A civilian environment and professional medical environment are two every different places and we are going to concern ourselves with civilian use only.  Here are a few tips: 

A crowd of people at a sporting event

  • The longer a respirator has been in storage, the less likely it is to perform at its full potential
  • Always store respirators in their original packaging or air sealed containers
  • Keep respirators away from contaminated areas, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture and damaging chemicals
  • A good fit on the face is critical.  Ensure to have a proper seal so outside air does not leak into the mask from around the edges of the respirator
  • Do not store your respirator in the sun or leave in places like your car dashboard where the sun can shine on it.
  • Ensure the structural integrity of the respirator.  If you sit or step on it then it very well may be a throw away
  • Do not use dirty hands to handle your respirator.  Wash your hands and then gently remove your mask
  • After handling your respirators, wash your hands.  Contaminants are going to be found on the outside of the mask so proper handling is very important.
  • Do not share your respirator - EVER.  This is perhaps the most reckless thing you could do as it will almost certainly ensure the exchange of bodily fluids and with it, the potential for contamination
  • Hang your respirator off of a hook in a sanitary area and do not grab it by the mask area, use the elastic. 
  • You can keep using your respirator as long as the structural integrity is sound.  
  • Handle your respirator as a valuable medical health device because that is what it is.
  • Remember, your N95 and KN95 respirators are disposable so once it is 

Remember, N95 and KN95 respirators are designed to protect you against tiny particulate matter such as dust, fumes, mists, aerosols, and smoke. They are also effective against biological particles such as pollen, mold spores, bacteria, viruses, animal dander and allergens.  If your respirator is structural compromised then it will not function properly.  If contaminated air leaks in around the edges of the mask then the mask has been effectively a fashion piece and that is all.  

Woman wearing a sport PM2.5 respirator on busy city streets

How Long Can I Use My Respirator?

This is one of the most asked questions and there is a general rule which is 1 - 3 days or 8 - 24 hours depending on use.  Remember that in a medical setting, a disposable use respirator means that it is discarded after being in a setting where possible contaminants were present in the room or area that the medical professional was working. In these case it could be 15 minutes in a medical environment.  In a civilian environment you want to take the same precautions meaning that if you were in an environment where exposure to a containment was likely, dispose of your respirator.

Another thing you want to remember about N95 and KN95 respirators is that they are designed for the more risky public areas where viral contamination would be probable event if you were present without a respirator. Do not overuse your respirator and do not feel that you have to wear one every time you go out or every time you are around other people.  Use common sense and wash your handles regularly. Use a respirator if: 

  • You are going grocery shopping  
  • Large gatherings such as sporting and music events
  • You are around another person who is infected with a viral infection such as the influenza or a cold
  • In the workplace you are constantly exposed to many new individuals you do not know on a regular basis.
  • Any other activity or area where exposure to a viral infection is high

Remember, you can use a 2-ply cotton face mask in situations where you need good protection but not the medical grade protection.  Most scuba and cotton face masks have pockets for PM2.5 filters so you can use your cotton face mask with a PM2.5 filter for virtually equivalent protection.  Ultimately, the choice is yours as to what you prefer and how much protection you would like. 

There are also going to be times where wear an N95 or KN95 respirator will be not needed and a disposable surgical mask or 2-ply cotton mask is adequate.  You do not need a respirator every time you go out.  If you are just going for a walk, doing work around the house, out hiking or doing basic errands, you can leave the respirator at home.  

 

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