Electric Cookers' New Trick: Disinfecting Masks

50 minutes in dry heat restores N95 masks without ruining them, say researchers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 15, 2020 7:11 AM CDT

One of the vexing problems with N95 masks amid the pandemic has been how to safely clean and reuse them. Turns out, a common electric cooker will do the trick, says a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. To be clear, the masks in the study are N95 respirator masks, not regular cloth masks that can be cleaned with soap and water. For their study, the researchers used a $50 Farberware multifunction pressure cooker, but the principal would apply to other models, including the popular Instant Pot. This video explains the process, notes NBC Chicago. Put a towel in the pot (to keep the masks from touching the pot itself), put the mask or masks on the towel, then run a 50-minute cycle of dry heat. That is, don't put water in the pot, and the vent can stay open. (There's no need to build pressure.)

“The N95 can be reused using a very simple method,” researcher Thanh H. Nguyen tells the Washington Post. “We are not testing exhaustively every device out there, everything, but we want to show that this concept works. Then people can use the idea and apply to other things.” The team found that the cleaning cycle removed at least 99.9% of each virus tested. And they found no degradation in the quality of the mask's respirator after 20 cycles. The researchers explain more in this Q&A. One caveat: The researchers don't advise using the same cooker to disinfect masks and cook food. (One Florida sheriff forbids his deputies from wearing masks on duty.)

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