With the coronavirus pandemic accelerating in different parts of the world, people are taking multiple preventive measures in addition to the ones imposed by the government on a national level for maximum protection and lower risk of contracting the infection.
Amongst the official guidelines on safeguarding oneself from coronavirus infection, the World Health Organization has also recommended wearing masks whenever heading outdoors for any purpose.
N95 is one of the most commonly used and best options for avoiding coming in contact with coronavirus. However, the masks were reportedly short and hard to find in most of the countries as soon as the infection began to spread on a global scale.
Now, the N95 mask is either not available in the market in the majority of the countries or is being sold at very high prices which are unaffordable for most. Another big problem is most of such masks are not suggested and created in a way that people can re-use them.
However, since wearing a mask can add an additional protective layer especially in public spaces, many health experts have suggested that it is acceptable to wear any mask or just clean and re-use the N95 mask available.
According to an article by Dr. Peter Tsai, who is the primary designer of the N95 mask, there are a couple of ways to clean the mask but it is important to be careful and not follow some of the conventional methods of cleaning.
For instance, the effectiveness or functioning of the mask can be significantly reduced if a person tries to clean it by washing it using soapy water. Wetting the mask is generally not a good idea. Liquid alcohol or aerosol should also not be used on the N95 mask.
Dr. Tsai explains that the reason for this is because following any of these mentioned methods will destroy the mask’s electrostatic charge. The N95 is only able to filter out particles due to the electrostatic charge.
Therefore, the mask cannot be washed like a simple cloth mask. Doing so would only decrease its effectiveness from a third to less than a half.
Instead, the easiest way to clean the N95 mask is simply by performing a round-robin rotation of masks. This way, none of the masks are worn for seventy-two hours. Dr. Tsai states that he himself has not tested this method but it is shown to be effective in a study that appears in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Seventy-two hours should be more than enough for the mask to be free of any virus as the coronavirus cannot survive on am in-animate object for any longer time.
Another method that can be used to clean the mask is by steaming or boiling it at 125C/260F. Both of these methods would not affect the effectiveness of the mask to a big extent. However, make sure to not stir frequently while boiling or do it for too long.
The last method, which is baking the mask in an oven for thirty minutes at a temperature of 70C or 160F is also just as effective in killing coronavirus but Dr. Tsai does not suggest it since it may clean the mask but can contaminate the oven.
An alternative method developed by researchers at Michigan State University included using a laboratory oven. However, for common people, this is still not a very easy option.
Hence, it is just better to follow the first two methods than to contaminate food especially if the oven is used a lot in preparing the daily meals.
Whatever method a person chooses to clean the mask, the most important step would be to not contaminate it again with dirty hands. Dr. Tsai emphasizes strict hygienic practices while handling masks or performing any other activity during the coronavirus pandemic.
More instructions on the usage and clean of masks can also be found on the official instructions on the N95 mask by the Centre for Disease Control and Infection.