Proper mask fit

How to Ensure the Proper Fit of your N95 Respirator

Before the global public health crisis, the user base of N95 respirators largely consisted of working professionals in certain sectors, such as healthcare, construction, or industrial. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift in who used this type of personal protective equipment (PPE). To that end, the continuous emergence of new variants spurred the increased use of N95 respirators by the general public in the United States.

The Importance of Proper Fit

When it comes to protecting yourself from viruses and other airborne pathogens, the purchase of a respirator with NIOSH N95 approved filters, often mistakenly referred to as an N95 mask, is only the first step. The second, equally important step is ensuring the proper fit of this type of PPE. Whether you’re a member of the general public who never used a filtering facepiece respirator prior to the pandemic or a working professional in an industry where this type of protection is required, read on to learn about some considerations to do just that.

Steps to Ensure the Best Fit

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the efficacy of N95 respirators is dependent on face-seal fit, as “gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the respirator.” Per the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), here are some steps to take to ensure the proper fit of your N95 respirator:

First and foremost, always take care to disinfect your hands with soap and water before putting on your N95 respirator. After that, examine the PPE to see whether its function has been impaired. Never put on an N95 respirator that shows signs of wear and tear.

Next, form your hand around the outer-facing curve of the N95 respirator. Hold the N95 respirator over your nose and mouth, eliminating any gaps between the PPE and your face. At this point, the respirator’s straps should be positioned beneath your hand.

Guide the respirator’s top strap above your head until it reaches the top back of your head, where it should remain. Your N95 respirator may have two straps, and if that is the case, then guide the bottom strap so it is located beneath your ears and around your neck. Take care to never crisscross the top and bottom straps of your N95 respirator. Finally, gently pinch the nose piece to align and then sculpt the mask to the curvature of your nose.

The next step is to ensure a tight-fitting face seal. This seal check should always be carried out according to manufacturer-specific guidelines. The general idea is to ensure there is neither internal nor external leakage by bringing your hands to the N95 respirator and then inhaling and exhaling. If you feel air on your hands, then continue to sculpt the N95 respirator’s component parts (i.e., top and bottom straps, nose piece) until the attainment of a tight-fitting face seal. If such a seal is unattainable, then it’s recommended that you experiment with different N95 respirator makes and models.  Additionally, a negative seal check can be performed by inhaling gently and holding for 5 seconds.  If you do not feel any inward air, then you have a tight seal.

Factors to Consider

Keep in mind that a tight-fitting face seal can be inhibited by a variety of factors. According to the CDC, “Jewelry, glasses, and facial hair can cause gaps between your face and the edge of the mask.”  When it comes time to take your N95 respirator off your face, it is critical to avoid touching the front of the mask. As such, take care to first guide the bottom strap and then guide the top strap of the mask around the back of your head. Lastly, disinfect your hands.

For more information about donning and doffing your N95 respirator, please visit this NIOSH-provided resource.

If you’re interested in investing in this type of PPE, then look no further than the envo®mask, a reusable N95 respirator. Distributed by Clear Air, LLC, and manufactured in the U.S.A. by Sleepnet Corporation, these NOISH-certified N95 respirators can guard you, your family, and your workforce from potential harm. Visit the envo mask store today to learn more.