How to make your N95 mask last

The packaging says single use, but following these guidelines can extend the lifetime of your mask

MADISON, Wis.– Free N95 masks are now available at most Madison-area pharmacies. Hy-Vee, Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart, as well as a handful of smaller chains, all have them in stock.

But as long as every American is limited to three for free, that’s leading to another problem: How do you make your mask last?

Despite the single-use wording on most packages, doctors say you can wear your N95 for up to five days as long as you treat it well.

  1. Don’t touch the part that covers your nose and mouth. Remove your mask by the edges or the strap that goes around your head.
  2. Be careful not to stretch the band that goes around your head. The strength of protection largely depends on how tightly the mask seals to your face.
  3. Keep your mask in a paper bag overnight. The longer you wear your mask, the longer it’s trapping air particles. Most will die over the course of several hours.
  4. Don’t get it wet. Your N95 immediately becomes less effective if damp, bent, or dirty. Makeup residue also makes it less effective.

You should also consider replacing your mask, even if it’s been less than five days, if you’ve worn it around someone who later tests positive for COVID.

Overall, the contamination risk in reusing N95s is much lower than the risk of not wearing them in the first place.

“We might only get three free N95 masks right now,” said SSM Health Dr. David Ottenbaker, “But what I would say is that is about three weeks of better protection than most of us had before.”

You can find additional N95s for sale for about $1 per mask. But be on the lookout for fakes! Real N95s come with a number you can verify online.

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