Are Sanitized N95 Masks Safe for Reuse?

Have you had doubts about the safety of reusing decontaminated N95 masks?  A new study tested four methods of sanitization to determine if they could safely be reused.  Read on to learn more about the study results. Nurses COVID News


The unprecedented shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is an unsafe burden placed on healthcare workers. To protect ourselves against the highly contagious coronavirus, N95 masks are essential in stopping the virus droplets from entering through our mouth and nose. Unfortunately, the worldwide pandemic has the healthcare industry struggling to extend the use of their current N95 supplies. To be used safely, the masks are generally designed for a single-use. However, workers are having to use the same mask over multiple shifts, adding to their risk of COVID-19 infection.

Putting Sanitization to the Test

Robert Fischer, PhD, with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Montana, along with his colleagues, conducted a study to compare four methods of mask decontamination to determine which is the most effective. Specifically, the researchers compared the rate that SARS-CoV-2 virus is eliminated on the filter fabric of an N95 mask to virus decontamination on stainless steel. The methods used included:

  • Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide (VHP)
  • Dry heat
  • UV lighting
  • Ethanol

After 3 uses, the masks were tested again to see if they maintained an effective fit and seal. Laboratory volunteers wore the decontaminated masks for 2 hours before testing fit.

Finding a Reliable Method

The researchers found that all four methods removed detectable SARS-CoV-2 virus from the mask's fabric. However, they did find the following variations among the four methods.


  • Fastest decontamination time (10 minutes)
  • Could be used up to 3 times and function properly

Dry heat

  • Required 60 minutes for decontamination
  • Could be used up to 2 times and function properly

UV lighting

  • Required 60 minutes for decontamination
  • Could be used up to 3 times and function properly


  • Not recommended
  • Mask did not function properly after decontamination

Currently, UV light and VPH are the most widely used methods for decontamination. UV light has been used for years to disinfect hospital rooms, making it easily accessible. And, hydrogen peroxide has continued to be available without extreme shortages.

Study Limitation

The researchers tested disinfected N95 masks after clinicians wore the mask for only 2 hours. However, we know that N95 masks are worn for much longer periods of time.

FDA Emergency Use Authorizations

On March 28, 2020, the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), at Battelle Memorial Institute, to allow decontamination of N95 masks using a VPH method. Since then, EUAs have also been issued for Steris V-PRO system and STERRAD systems, with both using VPH method for sterilization.

CDC Recommendations for Decontamination

According to the CDC, only manufacturers can reliably provide procedures for decontamination without impacting t performance. Also, the CDC doesn't recommend N95 masks be decontaminated for reuse as a standard practice. However, the agency does recognize the pandemic is a time of crisis and options for disinfecting may need to be considered when N95 masks are in short supply.

CDC Recommendations for Reuse

The CDC has approved wearing the same N95 mask for repeated patient contact without removing the mask between patients. The approval is only for periods of crisis, such as pandemics, when mask supplies become scarce. The CDC has published the following Guidelines for Wearing N95 Masks for an Extended Period of TIme.

  • Discard N95 respirators after a patient has an aerosol procedure
  • Discard if contaminated with bodily fluids
  • Discard after close contact with any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions
  • Consider using a cleanable face shield over an N95 respirator when feasible
  • Hand used respirators in a designated storage area or keep in a clean, breathable container, such as brown paper bags.
  • Clean hands after touching or adjusting the respirator
  • Avoid touching the inside of a respirator.
  • If contact is made with the inside, discard the respirator and perform hand hygiene
  • Use a pair of clean gloves with donning a used mask

More Research Needed

Healthcare workers understandably have reservations about wearing respirators that have been decontaminated. N95 masks will continue to be in short supply with the evolving pandemic. To ensure the safety of patients and workers, additional research is needed to evaluate procedures for both extended and reuse of respirators.

I work in a facility that is now reusing N95 masks and many workers are leery of this practice. What has been your experience?

Specializes in Critical Care.
On 5/24/2020 at 5:23 PM, 42pines said:

I really don't understand why they don't simply keep some CNA's. Most CNA's go that extra mile, and are already trained in basic care.

A few months ago, when asked, "should I stay and work as an RN (or LPN, etc.) my answer was "of course." However, as time has gone by and I've seen such poor responses in some facilities, I wouldn't fault those nurses who quit. It's difficult, very difficult.

Working conditions worsened and we lost many CNA's and they weren't replaced. Also there was a crackdown and several were fired. So it seems like CNA elimination is a deliberate strategy. Of course, nurses started quitting in droves as more was being added to their workload and the few hires aren't enough to replace them, plus some were quitting in response to the CNA cutbacks and increased patient ratios, a few quit in orientation as they got better offers at competing systems. We are staffed by travelers and without them we would be screwed, esp now that we are surging. Corporate is balking at renewing the travelers claiming it's not in the budget. Yet we have labor pool working or not being paid regardless and most of them are not nurses and even only a few of the nurses can actually take an assignment. It seems to be a disaster in the making. It's just common sense you can't run a hospital without nurses!

What about sanitized gloves, are they safe for reuse?

Specializes in Emergency Room.
On 4/29/2020 at 1:27 PM, HiddenAngels said:

Dang, maybe plan to take at least one break so you can get a drink of water. This is so sad that we have to weigh these decisions. When I wear this one I do take it off when I leave the unit for a sec, even if it's just to take in some air. It's really hard for me to breathe and my throat gets dry wearing this all shift.

Nice article but I'm not inspired.

Just please make some more dangit! This is the land of milk and honey right?

I only take mine off when I go to my car for lunch-I try to chug as much water as I I can at that time because I do get horribly dry by the end of the day. Just praying I don’t get another kidney stone or UTI to add insult to injury. I get killer headaches every day by the end of each shift that take hours to resolve.

Specializes in Private Duty Pediatrics.
On 5/29/2020 at 1:10 PM, techarrows said:

What about sanitized gloves, are they safe for reuse?

Do you have enough gloves now?