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How long do PM2.5 Carbon Filters last?

You’ve probably heard the warning “do not use your disposable face masks and filters for too long” countless times already. But with most research and advisories focused on masks, there’s barely enough information to gauge how often you should change a PM2.5 mask filter. You’re not the only one left with no choice but to make vague guesses!

Airnex is committed to helping people breathe clean, so we’ve rounded up expert testimonies, official publications, and academic researchers then mixed it with our years of experience in the field of air quality. The result? A data-packed guide on the lifespan and proper usage of PM2.5 filters.

In a rush? Skip over to the “How long does a PM2.5 Activated Carbon Filter last?” section below to learn about the factors that affect their performance, along with our recommended usage period depending on the activity you’re using it for.

How do PM2.5 Activated Carbon Filters work?

This type of filter is designed to protect you against Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) which are fine particles in the air measuring at most two and a half microns in width. For reference on how small these sneaky killers could be, one inch equates to a whopping 25,000 microns.

PM2.5 can be present both indoors and outdoors, usually produced by activities that involve combustion (from vehicle exhausts, power plants, fireplaces, tobacco smoke, etc.)

Upon making their way into your lungs, PM2.5 can trigger irritation, shortness of breath, runny nose, and sneezing. In worse cases, constant exposure can aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases (lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, reduced heart and lung function, etc.)

This dangerous foe calls for a powerful protective mechanism. Here’s how PM2.5 Activated Carbon Filters provide a practical yet effective solution.

Good quality PM2.5 filters are equipped with a five-layer combo of non-woven fabric, melt-blown cotton, and activated carbon. They isolate air pollutants through the process of adsorption.

Yup, that’s not a typo! Absorbent materials allow foreign substances to seep through them. For instance, sponges will soak in water to fill the spaces inside them. In contrast, particles will stick to the surface of the activated carbon sheet because of its adsorption properties. Pollutants will be chemically bonded with the filter, so they cannot be separated by washing the product.

Remember that activated carbon filters can get saturated over time. Once they reach their full capacity, their ability to trap pollutants become compromised. You might even notice discolouration and odour from used products. These are common signals that it’s time to replace your mask’s filter.

Apart from blocking out PM2.5, activated carbon filters can also protect you from other airborne contaminants such as pollen, smog, germs and bacteria, moulds, and spores.

How to use PM2.5 Activated Carbon Filters? 

Keep these pointers in mind to make sure that you’re getting the most protection out of PM2.5 Activated Carbon Filters:

Check sufficiency of carbon content

Beware of bogus products! There are a lot of brands that claim to work but actually have minimal traces of carbon. These substandard filters could cost cheaper, but they can get saturated so quickly.

Take a couple of minutes to check if the PM2.5 filters you’re buying are backed by third-party lab tests on filtration efficiency.

Make sure they fit your masks

Regardless of how thick and carbon-packed your PM2.5 filters are, their protective capabilities can be compromised if they are not compatible with your face mask.

In fact, a study conducted in Beijing proved how poor facial fit greatly reduces filtration efficiency. Make sure to double-check the dimensions of the PM2.5 filter before buying one.

Regularly replace your filters

When they reach their full saturation capacity, PM2.5 filters lose their effectiveness in trapping air pollutants. Our scientists have yet to develop a perfect formula to calculate how long this could take.

For a rough estimate, check the manufacturer’s prescribed usage period for your filters. Or better yet, read on to this article’s next section for a comprehensive analysis on how long does a charcoal filter last in a face mask.

How long does a PM2.5 Activated Carbon Filter last?

PM2.5 filters might be powerful protective equipment, but their adsorption properties also have their limits. We’ve mentioned earlier that prolonged use will eventually fill its activated carbon layer up with particles. When this limit is reached, they can no longer trap more pollutants so it’s time to change your mask’s filter.

The lifespan of activated carbon filters mainly depends on its saturation capacity. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) guidelines, the average amount of particles that disposable respirators can adsorb is about 200g.

This means that the frequency for replacing the PM2.5 filter in your mask depends on how fast the activity you’re using it for will load up the activated carbon layer.

For non-dusty workplaces, we recommend grabbing a fresh filter after 16–24 hours of total use. But if you’ll be exposed to very dusty activities (woodworking, gardening, etc.) and environments, extended use should be limited to 8 hours. You can also consider discarding your PM2.5 filter immediately after you finish the task.

However, you should also consider hygienic and practical concerns to know when it’s time to dispose of the filter. As Smart Air India’s researchers tried to measure the lifespan of N95 masks, they found that filters’ usability does not just depend on saturation capacity. Its filtration efficiency can also be affected by the following factors:

Air resistance

Imagine a sink strainer that’s full of gunk. All those trapped foods barely let water pass through, right? Likewise, filters that have already isolated much PM2.5 cannot facilitate proper airflow. Proper ventilation within your face mask and filters is vital for the process of adsorption to work.

Sign that it’s time to change your filter: It’s getting harder to breathe with the filter on. You might also notice discolouration since filters nearing max capacity tend to turn greyish.


Over time, PM2.5 filters can get moist. Apart from that uncomfortable gross feeling, water can greatly reduce the electrostatic charge within the filter on which its layers’ filtration efficiency depends.

Sign that it’s time to change your filter: The inside of your mask starts to feel wet.


Prolonged use can affect the structural integrity of PM2.5 filters. In previous paragraphs, we’ve discussed how poor facial fit can greatly reduce their efficacy. Folds, tears, and other manifestations of deformation limits the surface covered by the filters, allowing pollutants to get through your mask.

Sign that it’s time to change your filter: You’ve noticed that your filter developed folds, tears and other damages to its structural integrity.

Can PM2.5 filters be washed?

You might be tempted to just wash your PM2.5 to save a few bucks, but doing so isn’t advisable.

Washing PM2.5 filter after the recommended period of extended use

Remember that PM2.5 filters work through the process of adsorption, not absorption. Separating the fine particles from its activated carbon layer through washing isn’t possible. Unlike absorbent items (reusable pollution masks, neoprene dust masks, etc.) which you can clean with hot water and soap, it makes no sense to wash this product.

Washing PM2.5 filter in between intermittent use

Lab tests conducted by Smart Air warned that washing N95 masks with soap and water decreases its effectiveness by 21%. Likewise, using alcohol for disinfection can cause a 37% drop in filtration efficiency.

Both N95 masks and PM2.5 filters are designed with layers of thin, randomly aligned fibres. Their electrostatic charge which facilitates the process of adsorption is removed when exposed to water and alcohol. Moreover, vigorous washing can cause damage to the filter’s structure.

Smart Air’s researches highlighted the use of UV Light as the safest method for quickly sanitizing masks before being reused. Contrary to water and alcohol, lab tests showed that it causes less than a 2% decrease in filtration efficiency. Consider investing in a portable UV-C Light Sanitizer to disinfect your carbon filter in between intermittent use.


Bottom line, a PM2.5 filter can be used for as long as it has not yet reached its full carbon layer filtration capacity, which is prescribed by NIOSH to be around 200g.

The specific number of hours to fill up its activated carbon layer depends on how dust and polluted your environment is. Filters can last from 16 to 24 hours of ordinary use but should be replaced within 8 hours when performing dusty activities.

Note that these recommended time periods are based on the capacity of high-quality PM2.5 filters, so be sure to check if your purchased products are backed by certifications and lab tests.

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Which Countries Are Requiring Face Masks?

As the pandemic continues, more than half of the world’s countries are mandating the wearing of face masks in public. Is it helping to slow the spread of COVID-19?

Months into the pandemic, countries around the world are seeking to tighten public health policies to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19 until there is an effective vaccine. With growing evidence that face coverings limit the virus’s transmission, more than one hundred countries have issued nationwide mask mandates. Others, including the United States and Brazil—which have the two highest confirmed case counts and death tolls—have decided against federal requirements, though some state and city officials have issued mask orders.

Face Masks usage was already common in some East Asian countries before the start of the pandemic. The first countries to set national mandates amid the coronavirus crisis were Vietnam and the Czech Republic, in mid-March. They have since become more common, although some European countries, including Lithuania and Slovakia, have lifted or loosened earlier mandates due to low case counts. In countries with limited mandates, masks are most commonly required on public transportation and in indoor spaces such as supermarkets and stores.

Nothing symbolizes our battle with the novel coronavirus like the face mask — it’s the most visible, humbling and contentious reminder of the deadly, invisible invader that we must live with until we find a vaccine.

In 2020, wearing a mask in cities like New York, London or Paris has gone from being a marker of the paranoid or vulnerable to the badge of the conscientious in the era of Covid-19. Even U.S. President Donald Trump put one on after previously disparaging them. Several studies suggest face coverings help — provided they’re properly made, maintained and worn — in limiting the spread of tiny exhaled particles carrying the coronavirus.

Still, not everyone’s wearing them.

The initial guidance from health officials was confusing, with many saying masks were only necessary for medical professionals or people exhibiting symptoms of infection. Or that only certain types of masks were effective. A shortage of supplies didn’t help either.

survey early on in the pandemic by Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research found that mask-wearing in the West lagged far behind other precautions, such as keeping one’s distance from other people, regularly washing one’s hands and avoiding public transport.

Parting Ways

Facebook users in eight countries showed a lot of conformity in protective behaviours, except for mask wearing, where they diverged

But as the health advice evolved to emphasize wearing masks, so did some personal practices. Pollster YouGov has been surveying people’s self-reported mask-wearing habits globally and three distinct patterns emerge from the findings.

Early Adopters and Laggards

The trajectory of people who say they’ve worn a mask in public in the past two weeks to protect against Covid-19 falls into three main groups.

All of the areas that had high mask usage to start with, and where the practice of wearing face masks remained elevated in response to the pandemic, are in Asia.

That’s where the Covid-19 outbreak began and where the 2003 SARS outbreak is ingrained in people’s memories. Some places mandated face masks along the way. Japan gave cloth masks out to the public without imposing a draconian lockdown. That alone may have saved lives.

Places that had low mask usage initially, but where adoption subsequently rose, had different experiences of the outbreak. Yet there’s a unifying theme: Usage significantly rose after rules were established around wearing them.

High reported usage in France, where people needed a self-signed permission form to leave home at the height of lockdown, and Spain, where children weren’t allowed outside, reflects high death tolls, strict lockdowns and mandatory mask policies in those countries.

In the U.S., state politicians and the private sector are taking matters into their own hands: All but two states have at least some mask requirements, according to volunteer organization Masks4All, including New York, which accounts for almost a quarter of the country’s virus death toll. That’s a big reason why more than 70% of Americans report having worn a mask, according to YouGov. Meanwhile, restaurant and retail chains like Walmart Inc., McDonald’s Corp. and Starbucks Corp. are requiring them in their establishments.

Experiences in countries where the virus has remained relatively under control underline the power of clear policies over gentle nudging or relying on people’s common sense.

Germany, lauded for its cautious, consistent handling of the outbreak, saw adoption surge after introducing mask-wearing rules in April. There was a significant jump in Mexico after local governments mandated their use and gave out masks free. Singapore’s level shot up to 90%, from around 23% in early March, after the government ceased discouraging residents from donning face coverings, distributed them free and made them compulsory with a fine for failing to comply.

Then there are the countries where mask usage has stayed low.

In some places, such as Denmark, Finland and Norway, that’s easy to understand. Their Covid-19 outbreaks have been relatively contained, with among the lowest death tolls in the world. So low mask adoption doesn’t necessarily signal a policy failure. After all, masks are only one tool among many, and they’re by no means a panacea where they are in use.

Denmark’s health authority has discouraged mask wearing for healthy people going about their normal lives, questioning its effectiveness and saying it “can cause more harm than good.” There have been concerns that people who cover their mouth and nose may let down their guard or that face coverings may even become a vector for the virus if mishandled.

One Italian study, however, shows masks did encourage people to keep their distance. The U.S. CDC recommends wearing cloth masks as a preventative measure, while a WHO study found an apparent 85% reduction in infection risk when masked.

What’s striking about the low-mask-wearing group is that it includes Nordic neighbour Sweden, where a decision to keep much of society open as the outbreak worsened has led to a considerably higher mortality rate. Even as calls multiply for government measures such as rules on masks, Swedes aren’t taking it upon themselves to wear them.

The U.K. is even more confounding. It has the highest death toll in Europe, yet only 38% of respondents to YouGov’s latest tracker poll said they wore a mask. They cite many reasons, including staying home, inconsistent guidance and a failure of leaders to be role models. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was only recently pictured wearing a mask for the first time, in spite of overcoming a serious bout with Covid-19 in April.

Fear Factor

In general, face mask wearing has been the norm in places where fear is much greater.

When clear rules are introduced, such as last month’s public transport requirements in England and Scotland, Brits show they will comply. In fact, an Ipsos MORI survey in April and more recent results from YouGov in July found that though few Brits wear face coverings, a large majority support doing so or would wear them if the government mandated it. As part of efforts to jumpstart the economy, England will follow Scotland in requiring masks be worn in shops starting July 24.

Even rules can become politicized, though, as seen in the U.S. and Latin America, where the stakes are arguably the highest. Strongmen leaders who revel in tough-guy personas don’t generally like face masks: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has watered down his own country’s mask law, while Trump’s resistance to wearing a mask (until his recent change of heart) has given succour to American anti-maskers who skew Republican.

All in all, masks are gaining momentum as countries reopen their economies while battling a virus that’s still very much with us. The looming challenge will be overcoming resistance from people who remain unconvinced by their merits or fatigue from those who feel Covid-19 is less of a threat.

As with changing social behaviour on safety issues, such as wearing a seatbelt or not driving when drunk, mask adoption will take time and effort. The limits of enforcement will likely lead to more carrot-and-stick approaches: Masks should ideally be free or widely distributed, government messaging should be clearer on where masks are required and why, and fines should be levied where necessary. Masks themselves should become more comfortable and fashionable to wear.

Until we have a vaccine or effective treatment, all countries should be on their guard. Once the mask straps start to loosen, they may do so for good.

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Why Wearing A Face Mask is Important?

Masks should be worn anytime you are in public or people are nearby. Face Masks act as a physical barrier to protect you and others from viral and bacterial particulates. Many people unknowingly infect others by going out and spreading germs by coughing or touching others. Wearing a mask is good for two reasons: It’s going to cut down 95 percent of the breathing that sends the virus up to 6 feet away in a room and also will reduce oral transmission by preventing the virus from getting into your nose or mouth. Hospital and medical centre staff wear face masks to prevent the spread of disease. This post will highlight why wearing a face mask is so important and how to wear a face mask in your medical setting.

Why wear a face mask?

Wearing a face mask will help prevent the spread of infection and prevent the individual from contracting any airborne infectious germs. When someone coughs, sneezes they could release germs into the air that may infect others nearby. Face masks are part of an infection control strategy to eliminate cross-contamination.

How should your face mask be worn?

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before touching the face mask.
  • Remove mask from the dispenser or box and make sure the masks do not have any holes or tears.
  • Make sure you determine which side is the top and which is the front of the mask, so you can properly wear the mask.
  • Face masks with ear loops: hold by the ear loops and put the loops around each ear.
  • Face masks with ties: bring the mask to your nose and place the ties over your head to secure with a tie.
  • Face masks with bands: hold the mask to your nose and pull the top strap over the crown of your head and pull the bottom strap over your head so its at the nape of your neck.
  • Pull the mask over your mouth and chin