Science | August 16, 2020 6:00 am

Report: Sanitizing N95 Masks Can Be Done With an Electric Cooker

A new study showcases an ingenious cleaning method

N95 mask
Scientists may have had a breakthrough discovery regarding N95 masks.
Famartin/Creative Commons

One of the ongoing challenges of the pandemic relates to the N95 masks that are essential for keeping medical workers safe from infection. The logistics of buying and shipping massive quantities of N95 masks have been the stuff of gripping news stories. Why do so many masks need to be purchased? One reason is that they can be very difficult to clean in a sanitary way that also leaves the masks undamaged.

At least, that’s been the conventional wisdom until now. But a new study suggests that high-end medical supplies might not be needed to sanitize N95 masks for re-use. Instead, something much humbler and easier to come by will do the task just fine: a $50 electric cooker.

A new article by Allyson Chiu at The Washington Post charts how two faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — Thanh H. Nguyen and Vishal Verma — were tasked with helping local health care professionals find more personal protective equipment. As Nguyen told the Washington Post, the difficulty of cleaning N95 masks was an issue from the outset.

Nguyen and Verma came up with a possible solution: would an electric cooker be up for the task? They sent a student off in search of something that was low-priced and easy to understand. A Farberware pressure cooker wound up doing the trick, and Nguyen and Verma wrote a study exploring its usefulness.

Using the rice preset on the Farberware cooker and N95 respirators from 3M, a major manufacturer of the protective coverings, the researchers found that 50-minute treatments without pressure at a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit left the masks thoroughly cleaned without compromising fit or filtration efficiency.

It’s an ingenious solution to an ongoing problem — and it’s something that future researchers will be able to build on.

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