Do N95 Face Masks Really Expire?

With masks in short supply during the pandemic, people are questioning whether N95 face masks expire. Are expired face masks (but otherwise untouched) still effective? Surprising results from a peer-reviewed study have led some to question N95 expiration dates.

Why Do Masks Have Expiration Dates?

Manufacturers mark their masks with expiration dates. For example, 3M says their masks have a 5-year shelf-life when the respirators are stored in their original packing and in proper climate conditions (-4F to 86F, not exceeding 80% RH). That leads some to conclude that masks are less effective after this date.

3M N95 Face masks Expiration
Can I wear an expired N95 face mask?

The motivation behind the expiration date is that a mask’s effectiveness depends on having a good fit. Over time, it is possible for the elastic bands and nose pieces to start to degrade. If the straps and other structural pieces are degraded, the masks will fit less well.

Do N95 Face Masks Expire?

Let’s take a look at some peer-reviewed studies diving into whether N95 masks expire.

N95 face mask shelf life

Do Expired Masks Perform Worse?

Researchers at the University of North Carolina and the EPA investigated this idea by testing brand new and 10-year-old expired 3M N95 face masks. Importantly, the researchers tested the masks on real people’s faces, rather than manikins.

N95 Mask Fit Test

These fit tests are important because they take into account the part that people most suspect would degrade–the straps and other pieces that influence fit. The test compares the number of particles inside the mask while a person is wearing it versus the number of particles outside the mask.

10-Year-Old Expired N95 Masks as Effective as New

Surprisingly, the expired N95 masks were within one percent as effective as the brand new masks–essentially indistinguishable.

Do N95 Masks Expire?

It’s important to note that this was a relatively small study. The researchers tested six different masks in two model numbers. However, there was no evidence of a meaningful reduction in effectiveness.

N95 Masks Have Longer Shelf Life Than We Once Thought

This data adds to other tests finding that N95 masks last longer than some people have thought. Longevity tests have found less than a 1% decrease in fit effectiveness in pollution masks worn every day for 30 days.

A separate non-fit-tested masks prevented infection as well as fit-tested masks. Although formal fit tests and brand-new masks are ideal, this real-world data suggests that expired masks provide similar protection.

Read More: How Long Do N95 Masks Last?

Bottom Line: Do N95 Face Masks Expire?

Fit tests found less than a 1% difference in effectiveness between 10-year-old expired N95 masks and brand new masks.

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Along with wearing masks, air purifiers with HEPA filters are also one of the best ways to stay safe from a variety of pollutants in our air including viruses and dangerous PM2.5. A recent CDC study confirmed significantly lower COVID-19 infection rates in schools that used HEPA air purifiers. HEPA filters can significantly lower the risk of a variety of deadly diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.

Read More: Four Steps to Choosing the Best Air Purifier

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