Nearly three years into the pandemic and the world has collectively disposed of upwards of 5 million tons of medical waste, a majority of which are disposable face masks. Although we can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel, masks don’t seem to be going away any time soon.
This is especially true for those who work in high-risk situations or the medical/dental field. For those of us who have chosen this career path, masks have been around long before the pandemic and they’ll be around long after.
That said, the economical and environmental toll that face masks have over the world continues to grow. Disposable respirator masks cost between $1 to $3, while disposable surgical masks range from $5 to $10 per box of 100s. At first glance, the price of a mask can seem “cheap”, but if you wear one every day, that cost starts to add up.
Furthermore, there is also the pressing concern about masks’ impact on the environment. Just like any other type of waste, disposable face masks end up in the landfills and possibly even make their way to the ocean, wreaking havoc on our already struggling marine life.
All that considered, it’s only the right time to ask the question: can disposable face masks be reused? And if so, how can you reuse them properly?
In this article, we will talk about which face masks can be reused, the proper way to sterilize and reuse your face mask, and what to do with your disposable face masks after you reuse them for the final time.
Disposable Face Masks vs Reusable Face Masks
First things first - we want to discuss the difference between disposable face masks and reusable face masks. There are some types of masks that are meant to be used, and some that may not be designed for this purpose.
Disposable face masks, as the name suggests, are designed to be worn for only a short period of time and then discarded. There are several types of disposable face masks, but only a few can provide ample protection against COVID-19. These include:
Surgical masks or medical masks provide good filtration and fluid resistance. They are also commonly sold in bulk and are relatively cheaper than high-filtration masks like N95s. However, they don’t always fit right, which sometimes makes it necessary to tighten the mask by making extra loops on the ears.
Furthermore, where you get your surgical masks also matters. To ensure that your masks pass regulatory safety standards, here’s where to buy surgical face masks that are of high quality.
N95s are high-filtration masks that provide excellent protection against COVID-19, especially in high-risk areas. In fact, they are considered to provide the highest level of protection against the virus according to the CDC.
Take a look at this info guide on N95 masks to learn more!
KN95s are similar to N95s, but they can be less breathable. Nevertheless, they also provide superior protection against COVID-19 compared to surgical and cloth masks.
So, how do these disposable face masks compare to reusable face masks?
Reusable, multi-layer cloth masks provide reasonable protection against viruses and germs if they are worn properly. However, the effectiveness of cloth masks varies depending on the design and materials used.
The best type of reusable face mask is one that has more than one layer for extra filtration; is made of tightly-woven fabric, and fits well around the nose and mouth. But even the best type of reusable cloth mask does not compare to the level of protection that a high-filtration disposable mask can provide. Moreover, there is also the risk of virus particles accumulating on a fabric face mask if it is not cleaned properly.
So, Can Disposable Medical Face Masks Be Sterilized and Reused?
In healthcare settings, disposable face masks cannot be reused. For general protection against COVID-19, on the other hand, it is possible to sterilize and reuse face masks.
This includes surgical masks, N95s, KN95s, and other styles of masks. However, there are some general guidelines that you need to follow:
- If the mask is visibly dirty, throw it out. Accumulated dirt, pollution, and makeup on the mask can irritate your skin - and this is a sign that the mask is beyond repair.
- If you have worn the mask in a place where the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is high (e.g. attending a crowded event or interacting with a COVID patient), dispose of it immediately after exiting the space.
- If the mask is visibly damaged, has gotten wet, or can no longer be worn properly, it’s time for a new mask.
All these instances aside, it may be possible to reuse your disposable mask safely. This brings us to our next topic:
How To Sterilize Disposable Face Masks Before Reusing Them
Can disposable medical face masks be sterilized and reused? Yes, but the way you sterilize them will determine how safe they are to wear the next time you use them.
It is not necessary to douse your disposable mask in rubbing alcohol or disinfectant. In fact, treating your face mask with any chemical is highly discouraged. This is because if you put something on your mask, you will also be inhaling it when you put it back on. It is also not recommended to wash your disposable mask as this can damage the fibers and make it less effective at blocking particles and pathogens.
Instead, put your disposable face mask in a disposable bag or envelope and then leave it for 7 days. The coronavirus can only survive for 72 hours. Thus, waiting for 7 days before using your mask again should be enough time for the virus to be inactive.
A good tip is to label the paper bag with the date so that you don’t reuse your mask too soon. We recommend having 7 masks in rotation so that you always have something ready to wear.
How Many Times Can Disposable Face Masks Be Reused?
The rules aren’t black and white when it comes to how many times you can reuse your disposable face masks. In general, if the mask is dirty, visibly damaged, or can no longer be worn properly, it’s time to throw it out. More importantly, if you have worn the mask in a high-risk setting, it is better not to risk reusing your mask and just getting a new one.
If you want to get more use out of your mask, however, be sure to buy high-quality surgical masks made in USA or high-filtration respirators that pass all U.S. quality standards. The higher the quality of the mask, the better it can withstand wear and tear; thus, the longer it will last through multiple uses.
What To Do With Disposable Face Masks After Reusing Them
After each use, place your disposable face mask back in the bag and leave it there for at least 7 days. If it’s time to throw out the mask, wrap it in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the proper bin (i.e. hazardous waste bin/biological waste bin). It may also be a good idea to leave your mask in a bag for 7 days before throwing it out in order to protect others who may come in contact with it.
You may also have the option of recycling disposable face masks. However, this doesn’t mean putting your used face masks in the recycling bin. Instead, you should send your masks to companies that specifically recycle potentially hazardous waste, such as TerraCycle.
Can Disposable Face Masks Be Reused? Parting Thoughts
So, can disposable face masks be reused? Absolutely! As long as you follow the guidelines we have mentioned above, you can reuse your disposable face masks and stay safe while reducing your impact on the environment–and your wallet!
For better protection, get your disposable face masks from the leading PPE shop in the country–Primo Dental Products. From surgical face masks to N95s, we have everything you need to protect yourself against the coronavirus, as well as other infectious diseases that might come your way.