How to spot a fake mask, and how to stretch the life of a mask

As the omicron variant spreads quickly throughout Puget Sound, experts are recommending people use higher-quality masks. However, the CDC is warning that up to 60-percent of KN95 masks being sold in the U.S. are counterfeit.

It's not an entirely new problem, back in 2020, millions of counterfeit KN95 and N95 masks were shipped to hospitals around the U.S. including hospitals in Washington state. However, the situation seems to be getting worse, with constant updates from the CDC in recent months.

On top of that, the BBB is warning of price gouging on legitimate masks.

That has more people scrambling to find real masks, while others are trying to preserve their masks for longer use.


Thanks to PPE shortages in the middle of 2020, hospitals have already done some leg-work to optimize the best way to stretch out N95 masks.

A study in the American Society of Microbiology looked into decontaminating masks using a 1100 watt microwave, a glass with 60 millimeters of water, with a piece of mesh material fastened on top of the glass with a rubber band. According to the researcher, an N95 mask could be decontaminated by microwaving it for 3 minutes up to 20 times.

We’ve linked to the study, and a step-by-step direction from WebMD, here.

However, not all masks are N95. 

The people behind the non-profit Project N95 have recommended a rotation system to ensure that any active virus on a mask surface dies off before you wear it again.

Anne Miller suggests using what she called the "paper bag method." It involves using a breathable paper bag and then leaving the bag for specific days of the week. One mask can be warn on Mondays, another on Tuesdays and so on.

"If you’re careful you could wear it for several weeks with a rotation system," said Miller. "So you wear one on a Monday and you retire it until the following Monday, and that gives it a chance to decontaminate."


Finding out whether an N95, KN95 or other higher-grade masks are real is an even bigger concern.

According to the CDC, up to 60-percent of KN95 masks being sold in the U.S. are believed to be counterfeit, or fail to meet the standards of a true KN95 mask – meaning, people are less protected than they believe they are.

When purchasing a KN95 make sure the mask is stamped with both the company name, and the respirator standard number. Masks made after July, 2021 have a GB2626-2019 mark – older masks would read: GB2626-2006.

N95, as well as other NIOSH approved respirators (N-99, N100, P95, P99, P100, R95, R99 and R100) have specific requirements – you can find the CDC information on how to spot a fake, here.

RELATED: Seattle Children's Hospital unable to give COVID tests due to critical shortages

READ MORE: UW Medicine sees record-number of COVID patients in its hospitals

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