MUNDANE MYSTERIES: How Long Are N95 Masks Good For?

We’re all trying our best to keep ourselves safe as the pandemic wears on. And one of the most frequently asked questions amidst our precautionary efforts is, “How long can I wear my N95 mask before I need to throw it out?” N95 masks, which are the most effective masks available, don’t have a rigid expiration date. So, we have to use our best judgment based on our individual situations, as well as each mask’s individual condition. But there are some guidelines we can all follow.

If there is any sign that your mask is dirty or defective, then toss it out. Did it get wet? Throw it away. Is it stained? Chuck it. Maybe the straps are stretched out & it feels loose on your face? Get rid of it.

If your mask still looks & feels to be in good working order, however, you could potentially use it a while longer. According to recommendations from the CDC, it’s a good idea to keep multiple N95s in a rotation & wear a different one each day. Then, to provide your mask an opportunity for any virus particles it may have picked up to die out between uses, store each individual mask in separate paper bags or other “breathable” container to ward off contamination (of the mask, itself, or of someone or something else).

How long should you keep a mask in rotation before chucking it in the trash? Well, the CDC & a number of other experts recommend a maximum of five wears per N95 mask. But, again, if any of your masks looks to be warped or soiled or faulty in any way, even if after only a single use, you’re better off not trying to stretch its life out any longer. Toss it & get another new one.

Safety’s the name of the game, and you want to be as protected as possible. Wearing a good N95 mask is still one of the most effective ways to keep yourself & others safe until the pandemic ends (which, hopefully, will be sooner rather than later).

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