How to safely use, clean and maintain your Respirator

How to safely use, clean and maintain your Respirator

It's important to make the best use of a respirator, especially during a period of extremely high demand and the corresponding costs associated with low supply. In this blog, we outline the top tips for using and reusing your respirator.

  • Store in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Check expiration dates.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s user instructions, including conducting a user seal check.
  • Follow the employer’s maximum number of donnings (putting the respirator on).
  • If the manufacturer does not provide a recommendation, reuse your respirator up to five times.
  • Discard any respirator that is obviously damaged or becomes hard to breathe through.
  • Pack or store respirators safely between uses so that they do not become damaged or deformed.

These recommended practices for extended use and limited reuse of NIOSH-certified N95 filtering facepiece respirators (commonly called “N95 respirators”) are as described by the Centre for Disease Prevention (CDC), in line with US government standards.

The recommendations are intended for use by professionals who manage respiratory protection programs in healthcare institutions to protect health care workers from job-related risks of exposure to infectious respiratory illnesses.

Supplies of N95 respirators can become depleted during an influenza pandemic or wide-spread outbreaks of other infectious respiratory illnesses.

Respirator Extended Use Recommendations


Extended use is favoured over reuse because it is expected to involve less touching of the respirator and therefore less risk of contact transmission.

A key consideration for safe extended use is that the respirator must maintain its fit and function. Workers in industries routinely use N95 respirators for several hours uninterrupted. Experience in these settings indicates that respirators can function within their design specifications for 8 hours of continuous or intermittent use. the maximum length of continuous use in non-dusty healthcare workplaces is typically dictated by hygienic concerns (e.g., the respirator was discarded because it became contaminated) or practical considerations (e.g., need to use the restroom, meal breaks, etc.), rather than a pre-determined number of hours.

Healthcare facilities should develop clearly written procedures to advise staff to take the following steps to reduce contact transmission after donning:

  • Discard N95 respirators following use during aerosol-generating procedures.
  • Discard N95 respirators contaminated with blood, respiratory or nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids from patients.
  • Discard N95 respirators following close contact with, or exit from, the care area of any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions.
  • Consider use of a cleanable face shield (preferred3) over an N95 respirator and/or other steps (e.g., masking patients, use of engineering controls) to reduce surface contamination.
  • Perform hand hygiene with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching or adjusting the respirator (if necessary for comfort or to maintain fit).

Respirator Reuse Recommendations

There is no way of determining the maximum possible number of safe reuses for an N95 respirator as a generic number to be applied in all cases. Safe N95 reuse is affected by a number of variables that impact respirator function and contamination over time.

  • Discard N95 respirators following use during aerosol generating procedures.
  • Discard N95 respirators contaminated with blood, respiratory or nasal secretions, or other bodily fluids from patients.
  • Discard N95 respirators following close contact with any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions.
  • Consider use of a cleanable face shield (preferred3) over an N95 respirator and/or other steps (e.g., masking patients, use of engineering controls), when feasible to reduce surface contamination of the respirator.
  • Hang used respirators in a designated storage area or keep them in a clean, breathable container such as a paper bag between uses. To minimize potential cross-contamination, store respirators so that they do not touch each other and the person using the respirator is clearly identified. Storage containers should be disposed of or cleaned regularly.
  • Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching or adjusting the respirator (if necessary for comfort or to maintain fit).
  • Avoid touching the inside of the respirator. If inadvertent contact is made with the inside of the respirator, discard the respirator and perform hand hygiene as described above.
  • Use a pair of clean (non-sterile) gloves when donning a used N95 respirator and performing a user seal check. Discard gloves after the N95 respirator is donned and any adjustments are made to ensure the respirator is sitting comfortably on your face with a good seal.