As a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many countries made it mandatory for their respective residents and citizens to wear masks in all public places. Related policies were put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19 as per the recommendation of the WHO (World Health Organization).

The best way to ensure your safety is to wear face masks in the right way. You may opt for reusable or disposable ones like surgical masks. According to experts, you need to dispose of surgical masks after every use; however, this can be a hard ask when you do not have enough stock. 

With limited supply and high demand, there is an apparent need to revise the rules on reusing disposable masks. Read on for more tips on the effective use and reuse of surgical mask, the related health concerns, and the dos and don’ts to consider.


Reusing Surgical Masks

The use of face masks, disposable and reusable, is one effective way to combat airborne viruses. You can cut costs by reusing them, and you don’t need to worry about going through a mask shortage. Therefore, the most common quandary people are battling with is whether it is possible to reuse surgical masks. 

You can reuse a surgical facemask as long as you do it the right way by following the laid out hygienic procedures. Since the mask picks up many airborne particles, you need to be extra careful when dealing with them. Decontamination can help you to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Given the contagious nature of airborne viruses, health organizations advocate for the singular use of masks, especially disposable ones. 

Using it frequently without decontamination increases the risk of contracting and spreading the virus to other people. In light of this, experts advise that you only reuse a surgical mask in emergencies, such as shortages. However, you need to get rid of the mask as soon as it tears or the lining softens.


How To Reuse Disposable Masks

Due to scarcity and the inability to buy masks on a daily basis, you may find it convenient to use reusable masks or even reuse disposable ones. Given that surgical masks are single-use, it is imperative to know how best to reuse them.

Keeping yourself corona-free should be your primary concern when reusing face masks. Therefore, you need to remove and decontaminate it safely to counter the contact and spread of the virus. 

After having your mask, remove it carefully, handling only the straps and avoiding contact with the surface since particles have gathered against the fabric of the mask. Secondly, place the mask in a safe, well-ventilated place like a zip lock bag or any other safe alternative.  

The next step is decontamination. While some advise that you wash it to remove the contaminants, some experts say that you can place it in a well-ventilated place for several days and reuse it later. 

They argue that the detergent you use when washing lingers on the fabric and you would only be inhaling the chemicals when you use it. But with a thorough rinse, you can effectively reduce the detergents’ concentration.

Alternatively, some experts have recommended the seven-day method. After placing a contaminated mask in a sealed envelope for approximately seven days, they found it to be free of the virus. 

Similarly, other people use the oven method, which involves placing the used mask under high temperatures of up to 75 Degrees Celsius to kill the pathogens causing the virus. 

If you are not frequently in contact with contaminants, these methods may work unless you are a health worker who is often in contact with infected people. During dire shortages, you can find hospital personnel reusing protective equipment such as hazmat masks. 

Some also use gases such as hydrogen peroxide for decontamination. Others also reuse masks after placing them under ultraviolet radiation or extreme temperatures for decontamination.  


Health Concerns of Reusing Surgical Face Masks

It’s quite possible that your mask is in regular contact with airborne particles especially if your area of residence has a high infection rate. The working principle of face masks is that they form a protective barrier to ensure that the air you breathe is free from pathogens. 

In the same breath, so to speak, a face mask can easily become a source of infection if not handled carefully. If you don’t use or dispose of them correctly, it may be dangerous to you and others as well.    

It goes without saying that surgical masks are most effective when you use them for the first time. As such, if you reuse them without proper decontamination, you will run the risk of contracting the virus. 

Improper placement of the mask may also lead to the virus spreading to other surfaces in the house which puts other dwellers such as family members at risk.

The CDC and WHO recommend disposing of the surgical masks unless it is the last resort. If you reuse a disposable face mask, make sure that you have only done so a few times and dispose of it as soon as it gets damaged.


Dos and Don’ts When Reusing Face Masks

It is vital to dispose of a surgical face mask immediately after use. However, if you must reuse it, the following tips will help you.

  • Handle used masks carefully before you clean them. Hold them by the straps when removing them and wash them immediately.
  • Store the mask in a clean, ventilated place and avoid leaving it exposed in the open.  
  • Do not share your mask with someone else, even after washing it. 
  • Only use mild detergents to wash your mask to avoid inhaling harmful chemicals.
  • Observe other Covid-19 guidelines alongside the proper use of face masks to best protect yourself.
  • Avoid frequently reusing the mask to lower the chances of contracting infections; you can only use it three times and dispose of it after that. 
  • Get rid of the mask if it tears, changes shape, or texture. 
  • If you are a health worker exposed to infected people, it is best not to wash or reuse face masks unless you do so as instructed by the hospital. 


The Bottom Line 

Since masks can be highly contagious, it is best to dispose of them immediately after use. Health agencies advise against reusing surgical masks unless you have little choice. If you must reuse it, handle it properly and decontaminate it appropriately to prevent further infections. 

Remember to avoid reusing it too many times to lower the chances of contamination. Together with observing the necessary preventive measures, you and your loved ones can stay safe from the virus.