If you’re still wearing cloth masks, now is the time to upgrade. Experts warn that the Omicron variant, which is now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the U.S., is far more transmissible than other variants, and cloth masks aren’t enough to protect us anymore. However, many of us have been reluctant to put aside our favorite cloth face masks and purchase new ones.
Buying single-use KN95 or N95 masks, which are recommended, means tracking them down (they can be hard to find in stock), making sure they aren’t counterfeit (many aren’t the real deal — here’s how to tell), and spending more money. Thankfully, a new trick for sanitizing and reusing these masks has made the rounds on social media, and experts agree that it works: the paper bag method.
What is the paper bag method for reusing KN95 and N95 masks?
According to health professionals reporting to 10 WBNS, the paper bag method is simply a way to store a mask until your next use. Placing the mask in a paper bag allows it to dry out and prevents it from contaminating other surfaces. If the mask has been contaminated with the virus, the virus should eventually die out while resting on the surface.
To use the paper bag method, lift the mask off your face by the ear or head loops and place it in the bag, being careful not to touch your face or other surfaces. (Treat the mask like a dirty object!) Then, fold the top of the paper bag to seal it and let the mask sit in there for at least 24 hours.
Of course, there is no guarantee that the mask will be completely sanitized by your next use. Research shows that Covid-19 can live on certain surfaces for as long as 72 hours, or three days. Still, using a paper bag eliminates a lot of risk.
“It’s not the bag that’s doing the magic trick, it’s actually the process of keeping the mask away from decontaminating someone else or a surface, and also keeping a dry environment in order for the virus to not spread or stay on the mask,” Dr. Jessica Shepherd, Chief Medical Officer at VeryWell Health based in New York, told 10 WBNS.
How To Store Your Masks — And When To Throw Them Out
While the paper bag method has blown up thanks to the Omicron surge, it’s actually not a new technique. Medical professionals used this method in the early stages of the pandemic to store and reuse their masks, when N95s were in short supply.
Experts don’t recommend that medical professionals reuse N95 respirators (the masks they are required to use in healthcare settings). However, the general public should be able to store their KN95s or N95s in paper bags to get another few uses out of them.
How many times can you reuse your KN95 or N95 mask before you have to throw it out? There isn’t a strict rule, but there are a few things to keep in mind: If the mask becomes soiled or wet, throw it out. If the ear or head loops become too loose, toss it. And if it starts to smell, swap it for a new one!
Wondering where to purchase KN95s or N95s, and how much they cost? A pack of 50 Kimberly-Clark pouch-style N95s will run you less than a dollar each on Amazon (Buy from Amazon, $43.22). The Hotodeal KN95 Face Masks come in a set of 20 and are a little pricier, but have good reviews (Buy from Amazon, $42.99). Whether you pick one of these brands or another, just remember to check that they’re the real deal — and pick up some paper bags to go with them!
If you want even more mask options, check out our 18 Best Face Masks for Glasses Wearers That Will Keep Your Lenses Fog-Free.
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