In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the main concerns for healthcare workers and citizens all over the world is the shortage of respiratory masks. In recent weeks, it has been established that face masks are ideal in the fight against coronavirus. All state officials are recommending the use of face masks whenever you are in public. The most commons masks in use include cloth masks, surgical masks, and N95s/KN95s respiratory masks.
As the world continues to grapple with the shortage of face masks, health professionals have come up with ways of ensuring that people all over the world can use their masks a few times before disposing of them. For this to be successful in the prevention against the virus, you must learn how to disinfect or wash your face masks properly.
These are loose cloth masks designed to be used only once. They are made to protect against splashes, sprays, and large droplets of hazardous or body fluids. This mask is most ideal for an infected individual who wants to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
While you cannot wash surgical masks, you can disinfect them using UVGI (Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation). A study has shown that ultraviolet light can render the COVID-19 virus inactive. For this method to be effective in cleaning your surgical mask, it needs to be done in the right conditions to allow the UV rays to penetrate the layers of the surgical mask to kill the virus. This method ensures that the surface and straps of the mask are all decontaminated.
You cannot wash a surgical mask with soap and water, as this will damage the fabric and render it unusable.
The N95s and KN95s are types of respiratory masks made with filters that offer up to 95% protection from viruses. These are the most effective masks for the prevention against COVID-19. The N95s/KN95s masks protect the wearer by filtering the virus present in air droplets. Even though they are meant for single use only, the shortage of these types of masks in the market means that users may require to use one mask more than once.
Unlike cloth masks, N95s/KN95s masks cannot be washed or bleached, as this will degrade the protective properties. The most effective ways to sterilize your N95s/KN95s mask are through the use of warm humid heat, hydrogen peroxide vapor, and UVGI. Some hospitals are using UV-C rays to decontaminate their N95 face masks and respirators.
The use of hydrogen peroxide vapor is the most effective of the three methods as it protects the integrity of the mask while ensuring it sterilizes it from the virus.
Since the use of hydrogen peroxide vapor or UVGI may not be within reach for most people, the concept of time and heat can be used to sterilize your N95s/KN95s masks at home.
The most basic way of sterilizing a respiratory mask is to store it long enough for the virus to die on its own. The longest durations a virus can be active on a surface or object is 72 hours. This is not the most effective method as it does not guarantee total decontamination.
The other method involves the use of high temperatures to kill the virus. Exposing your mask to 158F oven heat for half an hour has the possibility of killing the virus. Another method involves the use of steam. You can expose the mask to hot water vapor for about 10 minutes.
These heat methods are believed to be effective because viruses cannot survive in high temperatures. The higher the temperature, the shorter the time needed to decontaminate a surface or object. However, for respiratory masks, it is crucial to ensure the quality of the mask is not compromised during the decontamination process.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people use homemade cloth face masks while in public if they cannot access the respiratory masks. These masks are mostly meant to prevent the spread of the virus by minimizing the level of virus-infected aerosols in the air.
Cloth masks are the easiest to sterilize since they can be bleached, soaked in water and detergent, steamed, and even boiled. All these are effective methods of sterilizing cloth masks. You must clean your cloth mask after every use.
Non-flammable masks can be put in the oven for 30 minutes under 158F. You can also suspend it over boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes to steam sterilize it. If you launder it, ensure you dry your load on high heat to ensure you completely kill the virus.
Remember to wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer every time you handle a used face mask.