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Curious about why respirators expire? Here’s what you can do to make sure your respirator inventory stays up to date and ready to go.

If you’re responsible for managing inventories of personal protection equipment, you should be aware that most disposable respirators – used to protect wearers against particulate airborne hazards – have a limited shelf life, after which they should no longer be used.

But what does it mean for a respirator to “expire?” Let’s find out.

Disposable respirators can help reduce exposures to potentially harmful substances, such as various particulate hazards. The specially designed filter media traps particulates that pass through when the wearer inhales air. A good fit on the face is critical, since a proper seal helps keep outside air from leaking around the edges of the respirator.

Components can degrade over time

The longer a respirator has been in storage, the less likely it is to perform at its full potential. Over time, components such as the strap and nosefoam may degrade, which can affect the quality of the fit and seal. Additionally, expired respirators may potentially no longer meet the certification guidelines set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

In order to help keep performance at the expected level, 3M has set shelf life guidelines for most of its disposable respirators. Expiration dates vary according to respirator type, filter media, other materials used in construction, and date of manufacture. On 3M disposable respirators, shelf life information can usually be found on the side or bottom of the packaging. An hourglass icon will be nearby to help you identify the expiration date, which is different from the “factory” icon near the date of manufacture.

 

For Help Choosing The Correct Respirator

For more information on disposbale respiratiors from 3M, visit MSCDirect.com.

How to store your disposable respirators

Storage conditions are a key factor for shelf life too. In the United States, per 29 CFR 1910.134, OSHA has required that respirators be stored in the original packaging and away from contaminated areas, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture and damaging chemicals. Canada’s CSA Standard Z94.4 has a similar requirement.

Here are a few steps you should take for proper storage:

  • Always store respirators in their original packaging
  • Keep respirators away from contaminated areas, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture and damaging chemicals
  • Implement good inventory management practices, including stock rotation

Replenishing your stockpile and disposing of expired respirators

Now that you understand why respirators expire, and how to maintain your stockpile, you may also be interested in alternatives for what to do with your inventory once it has expired. Rather than disposing of your expired respirators in a landfill – there are other options to help you dispose of them in an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective way.

Option 1: Recycling

Expired/aging product can be recycled into new plastic products. For instance, through Deltco Plastics, there is no charge for this service (customers do pay shipping charges). Contact Deltco or your recycling provider to confirm eligible products, quantities and fees (if any).

Option 2: Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

In this option, disposed products are used as fuel for power generation. Contact an independent provider, such as Covanta Environmental Solutions or LJP Enterprises, to verify that your products are eligible. Contact a facility close to you. For your convenience, a list of facilities from CES and LJP is listed in this document. Shipping and disposal costs are typically the responsibility of the stockpile owner.

Option 3: Donation

Aging product with at least 12 months of shelf life remaining can be put in the hands of groups in need. 3M can help you identify donation options for your N95 stockpile. This solution may also allow your organization to receive a tax credit.

In order to help hospitals, emergency preparedness agencies, and business continuity managers achieve their sustainability and cost management goals, 3M created the 3M™ Disposable Respirator Stockpile Maintenance Program. It offers you several sustainable, convenient and cost-effective options for disposing of your aging and expired stockpiles of 3M™ N95 Respirators.

MSC can partner with you to help you find organizations that can recycle or donate your outdated respirators. MSC can also help plan a purchase schedule that can help you save money and reduce waste.

DEALING WITH DISPOSABLE RESPIRATORS

Are you responsible for managing inventories of personal protection equipment? If you are, you’re likely aware that most disposable respirators — used to protect wearers against particulate airborne hazards — have a limited shelf life. Replenishing your stockpile is therefore vital.

Take our poll to find out how you dispose of respirators compared to other shops.

What’s your preferred method when disposing of respirators?

Previously featured on 3M.

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I am a health care worker and finally was able to get cartridge p100 filters for my half face respirator.  the expiration says 07/11.  Is that just for the vapor portion of the filter or would that mean I cannot use them for the p100 purpose in health care environment?

Thanks.

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It's really contingent on how the mask has been stored as well as guidance from the manufacturer. We cannot provide a definite yes or no, especially because you are using it in a healthcare capacity during a health crisis. 

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Short of physical deterioration of retaining straps or exhalation valve material, I'd be perfectly comfortable using product WELL beyond its date of expiry.  Consider other products with efectively a rather arbitrary use by date, such as most prescription drugs. A study a few years back was initiated to look at reducing costs associated with maintaining the federal government's stockpile of essentail drugs with a 1 year expiration date from the manufacturer (mandated by the government).  They tested all the various medications stored for stability, toxicity, and effectiveness.  Except for a few antibiotics and a couple of others, the findings showed 7 years was perectly acceptable storage!! Recommendations suggested manufacturers be directed to place more realistic expiry dates on their products. The result: heavy lobbying by manufacturers to have the government continue the mandated 1 year expiry citing their increased costs to perform testing on each product (which they already did as part of their FDA approval process.  Fundamentally just another example of RAMPANT CORPORATE GREED.

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Very insightful and I'm sure other visitors will be interested in this. Thanks for sharing with us Bill. 

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How many times do you think I can use the respirator? Can it be washed and reused?  I have two P100 filters. Is it OK to spray the filters with surface disinfectant (inside or outside)? The respirator filters appear to have been made 1/20 so their shelf life is good. After one use is it safe to use again? Maybe after one use the virus is on the filter? 

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Filter media should never be washed or wetted with any liquid disinfectant or cleaner.  Doing so can damage the material and lower the filtering efficiency and allow dangereous particles to pass thru to the user.  On units with cartridge filters, the vinyl mask itself and the outer plastic of the filter cartridges can be disinfected by wiping with 70% isopropyl alcohol.

N95 respirators and cartridge filters can be placed into an ordinary oven for 1/2 hour at 160 degrees to kill any virus that may have been trapped in the filter media. Be certain to use an oven thermometer to check that the set temperature is actually 160 degrees before placing respirators inside.  Many have recommended storing used respirators in a paper lunch bag between uses and note the entire bag can be placed into the oven, with the mouth of the bag opened, so handliing a contaminated unit is minimized.

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Bill;

Thank you for your advice.

My advice to people is to wear any kind of eyewear and hat to complement their protection. A Covid-19 particle can land on the cornea or hair.  People seem to be focused on covering their mouth and nose.

I noticed that some health people take off their outerclothes before going into their house and then immediately throw their clothes into the washer. 

If nothing else brush yourself off and turn away form the wind direction.

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I am a nurse in a long term care facility.  We were given ONE N95 mask and are expected to use it every day.  We work 12 hour shifts and it's just gross. Someone gave me some old N95 masks, well expired, straps snapped easily. If I can replace the straps, would they be Ok to use?  

   

Hi Heather,

Thanks for what you are doing out there.  First of all, see the answers above on similar questions.  Depending on the State, there are various protocols to sanitize your respirator, so please be sure to follow that of your facility and industry.  As far as the straps go, you can replace them as long as you do not damage the respirator itself.  Some helpful links on this subject are below.  

https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/worker-health-safety-us/covid19/

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hcwcontrols/recommendedguidanceextuse.html

 

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I have some Bullard PA20 Paprs and which use seperate square filters which are PA1FG how will I know if the filters are expired? 

   

Hi Steffanie,

The shelf life for the HEPA filters is 10 years if stored in a sealed bag.

   

I use a CPAP machine with an Ozone sterilizing unit that cleans my hose and mask every day.  If I put my N95 mask inside the unit along with my CPAP mask is that an option for sterilizing the N95 mask?

   

Hi Joe,

You can find the CDC's recommendations on safe and effective decontamination of filtering facepiece respirators here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/decontamination-reuse-respirators.html

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