Guidelines for Decontaminating N95 Respirators

| BlackHawk Team

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a global shortage of N95 respirators (FFR). N95s are critical to protect healthcare workers and first responders from inhaling the COVID-19 virus. In response, healthcare workers, hospitals and companies of every kind have sought ways to extend the useful life of these masks. Subsequently the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a series of documents addressing the N95 and how to optimize the existing supply during this crisis. These bulletins are:

We break down the guidelines to help you understand what you need to know.

The 72-Hour Rule

According to CDC research, the COVID-19 virus can survive for up to 72 hours on a variety of surfaces. Therefore, it is imperative to allow a minimum of 72 hours between uses of an individual N95 respirator. Since decontamination processes present a risk to the physical integrity of the FFR, “Use/Wait/Reuse” should be followed before decontaminating an N95 mask.

CDC guidelines for healthcare workers recommend the following:

  • Each worker is assigned five (5) FFRs
  • The worker uses one FFR per day
  • Worker stores the FFR in a breathable bag at the end of the work shift
  • Worker uses the 2nd FFR on Day 2, the third on Day 3, and so forth
  • After five days, repeat the use of the FFRs in order

FFRs may last up to five cycles with this method as long as they retain their fit and function. Damaged or torn masks should be discarded immediately, as should masks that contact dirt or bloodborne pathogens. Caveat: Workers must regard used masks as contaminated and strictly follow the above guidelines. If an insufficient number of FFRs are available to achieve the 5-day rotation, decontamination may be necessary.

Decontaminating masks with hydrogen peroxide

3M, one of the world’s foremost makers of N95 masks, identified four key aspects of a successful decontamination process:

  • Inactivates the target organism (in this case, COVID-19)
  • Does not damage the respirator’s filtration
  • Does not affect the respirator’s fit
  • Is safe for the respirator’s wearer

Research has proven that N95 FFRs can be decontaminated to successfully extend their useful life using Hydrogen peroxide as a safe and effective decontamination chemical. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued three Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for decontamination processes developed by Steris, ASP and Battelle. The Battelle process, from the company best known for its bar code scanner technology, enables an N95 mask to be effectively decontaminated and reused up to 20 times. The Steris V-Pro and ASP STERRAD processes are FDA-approved for up to 10 and 2 reprocess cycles, respectively. Other processes are under FDA evaluation.

Through its independent testing of its own 3M brand FFRs, 3M concurs with the FDA’s assessment of the Steris V-Pro and ASP STERRAD decontamination processes. To date, 3M has tested the Battelle system for up to three cycles. Currently,  3M does not recommend decontamination via ethylene oxide, ionizing radiation, microwaving, autoclaving or steaming. Read more about decontamination methods for 3M N95 respirators in their April 2020 Technical Bulletin, revision 4.

Stay protected

BlackHawk sells a variety of N95 respirators from 3M and other brands. Supplies may be restricted during the pandemic. We also sell hydrogen peroxide and safety signage and pipe markers for your decontamination installations. Need further assistance? Contact BlackHawk at 855-610-1001.