Can you reuse a surgical face mask

by Charles Timbang
surgical face mask

Considering the dearth of face masks resulting from the spread of the new coronavirus, many people have asked this question. The truth is a surgical face mask was not designed to be reused. According to the health authorities, you should only use a face mask once and dispose of it immediately afterward. (Learn more:

There have been reconsiderations to this regulation considering how scarce face masks are today. You must have the same question on your mind, else you probably wouldn’t seek this post out. So give us a few minutes to shed more light on this topic.

Types of masks

There are several kinds of masks on the market today. However, two masks are more common in the medical circle and they are surgical masks and N95 respirators. Both masks were designed for disposal immediately after use. In fact, when you notice damage, soiling, or you can’t breathe properly, you should dispose of the surgical face mask.

A surgical mask is to be used by a patient to avoid spreading germs to individuals around them. They are also used by surgeons and other medical personnel as a barrier to prevent germs from going either direction. It is also recommended that caregivers, probably family or friends, should wear a surgical face mask when with the patient.

On the other hand, N95 respirators are designed to filter up to 95% of air particulates. As a result, they ensure that the wearer doesn’t inhale disease-causing particulates and reduce exposure to disease. The CDC recommends that only health workers and emergency personnel use these masks. This is why a member of the general public does not have access to an N95 respirator.

Face masks shouldn’t be reused

Most medical practitioners will tell you that you cannot use surgical masks or N95 respirators more than once. They were designed to be disposable. When they tell you this, they are right considering the instructions given by the CDC and WHO.

This is not to say that there are no reusable face masks. There are several products on the market that are labeled as reusable. Most times, reusable masks are not for medical purposes. People who work in industries where fumes are produced or dangerous chemicals are used, wear reusable masks.

It is suggested by the World Health Organization that the moment you feel your mask is damp, you should change it. This means you have to dispose of the mask following the laid down protocol. The same goes for when you are done attending to a particular patient. In this case, you are to take off the mask before leaving the patient’s ward.

But one thing is clear about these masks, they do not expire immediately. Their elastic bands and fibers, the components that ensure snug-fitting, may deteriorate with time. Research shows that medical masks can last up to five years after production. However, it is suggested that the newer the mask, the more protection it will offer.

surgical face mask

Should you consider reusing a face mask?

Over the last few weeks, the world has experienced COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of this, face masks (surgical and N95 masks) have become extremely scarce. Health workers need these masks to protect themselves while performing their duties. Initially, the drill was to maintain medical protocol but soon supplies were running out.

As shortage loomed, there was a need for improvisation else workers would become completely exposed. In many parts of the world, workers began cleaning face masks and reusing them outside the intended scope.

Amidst all of this, the CDC released new guidelines regarding the use of face masks. The body does not still recommend that masks be cleaned and reused. However, it has presented a few instructions to ensure safe practice:

  1. If a surgical face mask or an N95 respirator has to be reused, it must be used by the original user. It cannot be transferred to a new user for any reason.
  2. Instead of reuse, it better to consider extended use. This means that instead of taking your face mask off after treating a patient, use it for your whole shift. The reason for this is that it keeps you from touching your face. As you know, this is one of the major ways of contracting disease.
  3. When you are not using the mask, ensure that you store it inside a breathable container. A vivid example of such a container is a paper bag. Many doctors around the world are already adopting this technique.
  4. According to the CDC, there is no guideline regarding the number of times to reuse a mask. The onus falls on the medical personnel to determine how many times it is safe to reuse a face mask.

Rotating face masks

There is also the option of rotating your face masks if you plan on reusing them. This is very important considering how long the virus causing COVID-19 stays on surfaces. According to recent research, it can remain on surfaces for about 72 hours.

This is why it is suggested that you have at least three face masks for rotation purposes. You can use one mask per day (shift) and exchange it for another one the next day. During this period, you should place the previous mask in a well-ventilated place. This will ensure that the mask dries up and any viruses present on it die off.

Using reusable homemade masks

Even though it is not advisable to be used in medical circles, many people are already making reusable homemade masks. These masks are made from different materials like cotton t-shirts, dish towels, and scarves. Homemade masks made from cotton t-shirts have shown to be very potent in protecting against viruses.

If you are using any of these reusable homemade masks, it is advised that you wash them thoroughly before reuse. Since the virus is killed at a heat of 133F you should dry the mask with very high temperature.


While we don’t advise the reuse of a surgical face mask, we have provided guidelines you can follow. Make sure that you only reuse a face mask if it is absolutely necessary. When you have to, do not share your masks with anyone else. (If you want to learn more, please visit .)

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