Do Face Masks Have An Expiration Date?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first spread across the world two years ago, people have had to make numerous lifestyle changes. Social distancing, hand washing, and staying home have become commonplace as we've all worked together to stop the spread. Another new habit that developed during this time came in the form of a simple, yet critical, daily accessory: Face masks. People around the world were encouraged to don protective face masks while socializing and while out in public. This ushered in waves of beneficial face mask hacks, and instructions on how to properly wear face masks, according to health experts.


In some areas, people are still being advised to wear face masks, such as in high-risk cities dealing with new waves of the COVID-19 virus. Even in low-risk communities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that select groups should consider the continued use of masks, including the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions.

Whether you've been wearing masks non-stop since the pandemic started, or you're only pulling yours out on occasion, the face coverings you've been using to keep yourself safe might be getting too old to rely on.

Face masks aren't effective forever

If you check your package of disposable face masks, you'll likely find a date printed somewhere on the label. This is the expiration date — after this date, your masks may no longer protect you from viruses as well as they once did. Christopher Sulmonte from the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit located at the Johns Hopkins University told CNN that the expiration date, "doesn't mean that it's broken afterwards. It just means the integrity of the mask isn't as strong as it was beforehand."


If you have expired masks, it's probably time to throw them away. If you want to avoid being wasteful, though, consider layering an expired disposable mask with a cloth mask to increase your protection. As much as you possibly can, remember to use your oldest masks first before they expire instead of reaching for newer ones when you head out the door.

As for cloth face masks, they typically don't come with a specified expiration date, but that doesn't mean you should use them indefinitely. Once you notice any holes or thinning fabric, it's time to replace your go-to cloth mask (per USA Today).