Updated on 08/12/23 by Erika C.
Reusable masks: what they are and what they are for
Under low-risk conditions, reusable masks optimally fulfil their designed function: to protect against potentially infected respiratory secretions.
Their effectiveness must be validated by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità through strict tests that assess the level of bacterial filtration, establishing compliance with current regulations.
This is an individual protective device that can be washed and sanitised in the washing machine or by hand, and of which there are two variants:
- type 2 reusable masks
- type 3 reusable masks
In the following paragraphs, we will analyse the technical characteristics of the above variants, which may be useful to the user for correct information regarding their safety level.
However, we would like to remind you that, regardless of the types of masks, you should wash or sanitise your hands before wearing them, and it is essential to cover your nose and mouth.
Reusable tissue masks type 2 | Certified reusable masks
Unlike disposable surgical masks (considered a genuine medical device) consisting of three layers of non-woven fabric that are NOT washable and reusable, type II washable masks are made of several layers of fabric, usually made of cotton.
It is possible to machine wash them after each use up to a maximum of about 20 times and excluding spin-drying and drying programmes. As a general rule, however, the manufacturer is the one that indicates on the packaging the period within which textile masks do not lose their splash and liquid resistance requirements for optimal respiratory protection.
Type III reusable masks | Reusable filtering face masks
The reusable type III mask is very comfortable to wear and is one of the washable filtering face masks.
These, too, like the previous ones, are usually made of standard 100 OEKO-TEX cotton with the addition of a pocket to insert an activated carbon filter inside, and contrary to what one might think, there are only 40 companies in Italy that produce them.
These protective masks, in which the filter is inserted inside, are not as common as surgical masks but being effective and comfortable, they are in great demand.
Apart from the fabric ones…
Which masks can be reused?
Reusable masks, apart from the FFP1 or fabric ones, are:
- FFP2 with and without filter/valve
We know that wearing a mask is a straightforward activity, but clearly understanding which and how they can be used while maintaining the same level of protection is not so simple.
Reusable FFP2 mask with filter | Reusable FFP2 mask without valve
FFP2 masks can be reused if they are machine washed with detergent at 60° or if present, the filter is replaced.
As a general rule, reuse is recommended in daily life and situations with a low risk of infection.
In hospital settings, for example, it should be replaced at least every 4 hours, depending on the situation and the ward.
Certified reusable FFP2 masks
FFP2 masks are certified if the surface of the mask bears:
- The name of the manufacturer or distributor:
- Model of the mask (usually identifiable by a number)
- Construction standard
- Filtration class
In addition, it must be ensured that the CE marking is correct: this must have a 4-digit number identifying the certifying body.
FFP3 Reusable Masks
The FFP3 reusable mask is one of the filter masks that can be washed and sanitised.
Although of all types, the FFP3 mask offers the highest virus filtering capacity (98%) to the outside and to the wearer (when not fitted with a valve), it is recommended to replace them in the healthcare sector.
On the other hand, we recommend washing them in a machine at 60° to remove germs and bacteria for daily use.
Finally, we would like to remind you that FFP3s, together with FFP1s and FFP2s, must still be catalogued by the letter "R" to be reusable. If not, they will be marked 'NR' instead.
The most frequently asked question
With this series of information, we have indirectly answered the most frequently asked questions by users, but the one worth paying the most attention to is:
What is meant by a reusable KN95 mask?
KN95 masks have a similar filtration system to FFP2 masks: both can filter more than 95% of particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns.
From an aesthetic point of view, they are also practically identical; what differentiates them is the procedure that certifies their filtering effectiveness:
- KN95 → certified in the People's Republic of China according to regulation GB2626-2006
- FFP2 → reference to EN 149 of 2001 updated in 2009
What changes in practice are how the devices are tested; for example, FFP2 masks are also tested with paraffin oil, whereas KN95 masks are only and exclusively tested with sodium chloride.