The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign study found that an electric cooker, including a rice cooker, can be used to decontaminate N95 masks inside out without disturbing its filtration.
This could help N95 mask users to reuse their masks after decontaminating them. The masks were originally made for one-time use.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.
N95 masks are highly vouched by many health experts as they claim that the mask helps contain the exchange of droplets which may cause the transmission of the virus.
N95 respirator masks are the gold standard of personal protective equipment that protects the wearer against airborne droplets and particles, such as the Covid-19 virus.
“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 Thanh “Helen” Nguyen, one of the lead professors in the study.
They verified that one cooking cycle, which maintains the contents of the cooker at around 100 degrees Celsius or 212 Fahrenheit for 50 minutes, decontaminated the masks, inside and out, from four different classes of the virus.
“We built a chamber in my aerosol-testing lab specifically to look at the filtration of the N95 respirators, and measured particles going through it,” Vishal Verma, another lead researcher in the study mentioned.
He added: “The respirators maintained their filtration capacity of more than 95% and kept their fit, still properly seated on the wearer’s face, even after 20 cycles of decontamination in the electric cooker.”
The researchers created a video demonstrating the method.
The researchers see the potential for the electric-cooker method to be useful for health care workers and first responders, especially those in smaller clinics or hospitals that do not have access to large-scale heat sanitization equipment.
In addition, it may be useful for others who may have an N95 respirator at home—for example, from a pre-pandemic home-improvement project—and wish to reuse it, Nguyen said.