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Do Face Masks Expire?

Do Face Masks Expire?
Early in the pandemic it was big news that the federal government had a stockpile of N95 masks, a type that was in high demand for our heroic frontline workers. Unfortunately, a large portion of that personal protective equipment (PPE) was expired. While the government and the news cycle have moved on, many of us might still be wondering: do face masks expire? What is the overall impact on mask safety?


When it comes to the gear the pros wear, those are the N95 respirators and disposable surgical masks, the simple answer is “YES.” Those types of masks do expire, and companies like 3M have recently added expiration dates to their packaging. 

Both N95 masks and surgical masks are meant to be disposable, and hospitals and our first responders would normally cycle through this equipment so quickly that expiration dates weren’t really an issue before. Chalk this up to one more thing changed by the coronavirus.

There are a few reasons the expiration protocol has changed for these pieces of PPE.

  1. Standards change over time. You can’t stop science – our best and brightest minds are going to keep making discoveries and breakthroughs to keep us safe. The expiration dates are a huge help in letting users know when an item was manufactured, and whether or not it’s the best option to use in a given situation.

  2. Degradation. It’s not just the filtering material that PPE makers are taking into consideration with these expiration dates. Masks might have staples, elastic loops, or other constituent parts that can degrade over time. It doesn’t matter how solid a filter is if the elastic ear loop has cracked and broken and can’t be worn.

  3. Exposure. The plastic packaging can also degrade over time, especially if the mask is stored in less than ideal conditions. And you don’t want to wear a mask that has been exposed to the elements for days, or weeks, or even years before you put it on your face. 

Depending on the product, N95 masks and surgical masks that are being produced right now can sit on a shelf from three to five years before being used.


Cloth masks are a different story, of course, since they aren’t graded for physician use, and some of them don’t even have a manufacturer. If you sewed a face covering at home from a t-shirt or a flannel sheet, well, you can’t be expected to sew on an expiration date too!

But it is vitally important that you regularly inspect your mask to make sure that the material hasn’t started to deteriorate. The CDC says that masks should be washed regularly. For some families that will mean after every use, for some it will be once a day. The CDC has left their guidelines open to interpretation. But let’s imagine for a second that you have a favorite shirt. Even if that shirt was made out of the finest and most resilient fabric, the garment would start to fade and break down if you threw it in the washing machine every day. The same is true of a cloth face mask.

Cloth masks don’t have official expiration dates, but they should be replaced as soon as the material shows signs of wear.


One way to extend the life of a mask is to protect your PPE from the elements when it isn’t busy protecting you from the coronavirus. The maskSAFE mask case was developed with this problem in mind!

In addressing issues of mask safety, even the world-famous Mayo Clinic says, “Masks should not be placed in pockets for later use.” A mask in a pocket comes into contact with stray dirt, it can get roughed up by keys or spare change – there are so many ways a mask can get damaged or subjected to cross-contamination. 

The maskSAFE mask case has come to the rescue! Our collection has face mask cases in two perfect sizes that fit the lifestyle needs of everyone in your home. We care about our health, our kids, and our community, and we know you do too! 

-the maskSAFE Family

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