Guide to using face masks

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Medical masks and N95 masks should be kept for medical workers, but if you have a medical mask, you should know that it was designed for single use. However, a number of scientists, led by a group from Stanford University, are studying the best way to disinfect the masks to extend the life of the personal protective equipment used by medical workers during the current shortage.

The problem is that washing or disinfecting a medical mask will degrade it, making it less effective. Scientists have discovered that using UV light, heat and humidity or hydrogen peroxide vapor could work, but the methods are developed to be used in hospitals with special equipment and are not intended for household use.

“I would be wary of putting them in the oven because of the risk of getting too hot and melting the plastic fibers, damaging the mask,” said Linsey Marr, a leading aerosol scientist at the University from Virginia who is studying ways to extend the life of medical masks. “Studies on other viruses show inactivation at around 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which is less than many ovens can handle. But it’s with high humidity, and humidity makes a big difference. If you have an oven that can reach 150 degrees and put a pan of water in it, it could be effective, but no one has tested the method on this specific virus. “

If you have multiple masks, the best strategy is to alternate the use of masks over several days, giving the virus time to die. For medical workers, one strategy is to keep a set of five masks so they can wear a new mask every day and return to the first mask on the sixth day.

“The safest thing to do could be to put the mask in a safe place out of reach,” said Dr. Marr. “Within days, the viruses should disintegrate. In fact, studies have shown that viruses generally break down faster on fabrics and other porous materials than on hard materials like steel or plastic. “

It is much easier to clean a cloth mask than a medical mask. The C.D.C. says that cloth masks should be “washed regularly”. The mask experts I spoke to wash daily in a machine or sink, using just plain laundry soap. You can use the dryer or let it air dry. Although not necessary, you can also scour it with a hot iron for a full attack on any germs that might remain.

Just like with a medical mask, chemicals like bleach or hydrogen peroxide will start to break down the fibers of the fabric, making the mask less effective. Dr. Marr notes that a virus cannot replicate outside the body, and if viral particles have been trapped by the mask, they are quite well bonded there and decompose or are eliminated during washing.

“Washing with soap and water should work,” said Dr. Marr. “I throw my cloth mask in the washing machine with the rest of the cloth and dry it on low heat. I would avoid bleach because we know it can degrade the fibers. The important thing is to avoid damaging the fibers of the mask. “

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