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N95 Respirator Masks Can Be Sanitized Using Electric Cooker, Study Finds

By now, grabbing our face masks as we head out the door has become as routine as grabbing our phones, wallets, and keys. We now know that wearing face masks helps to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. In fact, mask mandates are being implemented all over the country and many businesses are requiring customers to wear masks. But it’s easy to forget that these face coverings need to be cleaned regularly to avoid the accumulation and spread of germs. 

Cloth face masks should be washed after use with a hypoallergenic detergent in the washing machine, and most paper masks should be carefully removed and thrown out after each use as they cannot safely be reused or recycled. But what’s the best way to go about cleaning your N95 respirator mask? If you own an Instant Pot, rice cooker, or any other electric cooker, you now have a way to sanitize your N95 respirator mask. It's important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that cloth masks are OK for most individuals. Masks like the N95 are meant for medical professionals, but if you happen to have them at home – for example, from a pre-pandemic home-improvement project – and want to be able to get multiple uses out of them, your electric cooker will come in handy. 

The increasing demand for N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to their severe shortage for healthcare providers, frontline workers, and other essential workers. This prompted researchers to search for creative approaches to solving the challenge. Although there are several ways to sterilize protective equipment, most of them might damage or destroy the filtration or fit factor of the N95 mask. 

According to a new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, using the dry heat of common electric cookers can be an effective way to sanitize used N95 respirator masks. This could enable people who wear N95 respirators to safely reuse them if they face a shortage. 

N95 respirator masks help protect people wearing it against airborne droplets and particles like SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. "A cloth mask or surgical mask protects others from droplets the wearer might expel, but a respirator mask protects the wearer by filtering out smaller particles that might carry the virus," said the study's lead researcher, Professor Helen Nguyen. 

The researchers at the University of Illinois concluded that dry heat of an electric cooker might be an ideal method to meet all three criteria for effectively sanitizing N95 respirators: decontamination, filtration, and fit. They tried to find a method that can be easily done by people at home and so tested an electric cooker, an appliance that most households own. The researchers said the electric cookers decontaminated the N95 masks from four different classes of viruses including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. They also found that this method was more effective than ultraviolet light.

Through their testing, researchers found they could decontaminate the masks up to 20 times in an electric cooker without affecting the fit or filtration.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, and was supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The researchers also outlined their method for decontaminating a mask in a video. 

Here’s How You Can Sanitize Your N95 Respirator Masks Using An Electric Cooker:

  • IMPORTANT: Do not add water to the cooker. It must be dry heat. 
  • Layer the bottom of the cooker with a small towel to keep any part of the respirator from coming into direct contact with the heating element. Otherwise, it will damage the respirator. You can stack multiple masks inside the cooker simultaneously. 
  • Maintain the temperature to 212F (100C) for 50 minutes. 
  • When the cooking process is complete, you can open the pot and take out the respirators. 

Note: This method works for N95 respirator masks. For cloth masks, hand-wash or use the washing machine. Do NOT ever use a microwave or an oven to sanitize any type of face mask because it could be a serious fire hazard.

The researchers hope that this sanitation method will be useful for healthcare workers, frontline workers, and first responders, particularly those in smaller clinics or hospitals that lack access to large-scale heat sanitization equipment.

Final Thoughts 

From all of us here at The Ecology Works, we hope that you all stay safe and healthy through this trying time. If you have any questions about sanitizing or anything else, please feel free to Contact Us or message us on Facebook.

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