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You can’t leave your house without all the usual necessities like, say, your phone and car keys, but these days, you also don’t want to forget your face mask. And if you’ve been keeping up with the latest information on the subject, you know that experts say it’s time to ditch cloth masks in favor of more highly effective masks like N95s and KN95s.
While cloth masks have been proven to be less effective at protecting you, especially from the Omicron variant, they did at least have one good thing going for them and that’s the fact that they’re reusable, making them so much better for the environment than single use masks. Which begs the question: Can N95 and KN95 masks be reused to help your wallet and the environment?
According to Dr. Nina Shapiro, Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and author of The Ultimate Kid’s Guide to Being Super Healthy, masks can be reused but it’s important to do it properly.
First and foremost, she says that if you have ANY mask (cloth or medical-grade) and have worn that mask in the setting of a known infected contact, then throw it out, ideally in an outdoor trash bin or in a sealed plastic bag and then into the trash. “Yes, even that really cute cloth mask,” says Dr. Shapiro. “Chuck it! While virus tends not to live long on surfaces, it may live for up to 72 hours, so it’s really not worth the risk.”
But what about N95 and KN95 masks? Dr. Shapiro says that if you wear one of these masks for a day and it’s pretty clean on the inside and out, you can store it in a paper bag. “But only if it’s dry on the inside and out,” she says. “If there is any moisture, which is more likely on the inside, just from usual breathing, throw it out. If there is any break in the material or extra stretch in the straps, throw it out.”
To learn more about the paper bag method, watch this video below via 10tv.com. (Double click to watch full screen.)
When it comes to how many times a mask can be reused, it really depends, says Dr. Shapiro. “For instance, if a disposable mask is used on a day with air travel, that’s a one-time use. If a child goes to school and the mask comes home pretty clean, inside and out, it can probably be used a few times, three or four, at most.”
While cloth face masks are being widely discouraged due to their ineffectiveness (CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen says that cloth masks are little more than facial decorations and that there’s no place for them in the fight against Omicron), it seems many people are still using them. “If you’re using them still (I’d still recommend that if you or your child wears a cloth mask, it’s one with several dense layers), they should be washed with every use,” advises Dr. Shapiro.
Here’s more helpful information from the CDC about face masks, including how to wear, how to clean and how to store them.