Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been affecting healthcare workers all around the country. But one item in particular, N95 respirators, seem to be the most critical part of the PPE needed by these workers, and it also seems to be the scarcest product at the moment. The days when anybody could go online and find countless options to buy N95 masks in bulk or wholesale are long gone.
This is why some of the research done during the COVID-19 pandemic has been focused on finding a way to either create a completely reusable and cleanable N95 mask or finding a process to effectively clean disposable N95 respirators without altering their filtering properties. Today, we’ll talk about Lysol, and whether or not this common disinfectant can be useful for sterilizing N95 masks.
N95 masks and their importance
The term ‘N95’ is about the classification for respirators made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH. Inside the United States, this institution sets the standards for respirator filtration rates, and names each respirator type based on two characteristics: oil resistance and filtration rate.
NIOSH is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and their job is to make recommendations to prevent any work-related injury or illness. Respirators are used in workplaces where respiratory hazards, particles that can lead to serious health issues when inhaled constantly and persistently, are present. They’re masks or mask-like devices with a filter media that traps these hazardous particles, preventing the user from inhaling them at work.
Oil resistance, in the classification, is indicated with the letters N, R, or P, meaning non-resistant, somewhat resistant, or oil-proof, respectively. The filtration rate is represented by a number, which is the percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy, and can be either 95, 99, or 100%. This way, there are nine possible types of respirators, for example, N100, R95, or P99.
N95 respirators are, according to the classification, any respirator that isn’t resistant to oil and can filter out at least 95% of all airborne particles. This makes them an effective option for a disposable face mask to filter out 95% or less of the non-oil based airborne particles in the environment. Such particles can include dust, coal smoke, and various bioaerosols, like the flu or the coronavirus.
For this reason, they’re the best disposable face masks available for virus protection and need to be reserved for healthcare providers and other first responders on the frontlines of the pandemic. Their antiviral properties are higher than those found in surgical or medical masks, and reusable cloth masks.
Is Lysol an option to clean N95 masks?
So far, no process for cleaning N95 masks has been officially recommended by experts or authorities. The CDC has a series of guidelines and recommendations for optimizing the medical PPE inside healthcare centers, which includes the limited reuse and extended use of the N95 respirators during emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.
Lysol is a disinfectant solution used in many households around the country. A lot of people have been asking themselves: if I can disinfect my house with this, why can’t I disinfect N95 masks? But, despite this reasoning, no authority has ever recommended the use of this substance to clean respirators.
Among the many experiments and studies done to find a way to clean N95 masks, however, there was one study involving Lysol and other cleaning solutions as well. The results showed that the disinfectant solutions didn’t alter the mask’s filtering properties, but this is just one study and more research needs to be done for any concluding answers.
Why finding a way to sterilize N95 masks is important, and why it’s not possible so far
N95 respirators are made using a raw material called “melt-blown fabric”. This material comes from polypropylene through mechanical and thermic procedures. The result is a fabric with many holes that act as a trap for the dangerous particles, preventing the person from inhaling them. For this reason, the fabric is used as a filter inside N95 masks and other medical supplies.
This is a raw material that is scarce all over the world, and this is because it’s very difficult to produce. Factories that specialize in making this type of material are limited, and they can’t meet the demands of the pandemic by increasing their production. This is just one of the many factors that contribute to the shortages of N95 respirators that have been reported all over the world, and the USA in particular.
This is why the focus of research these last months has been on creating either a reusable N95 mask or a way to clean the disposable ones. But, the melt-blown material besides being scarce, it’s also not very durable, which is why N95 masks are disposable and need to be discarded after 8 to 12 hours of use. Cleaning processes that involve getting the face masks wet can damage the filter and deactivate their antiviral properties.
To implement any of the cleaning procedures that have been created, it’s always the best option to do it on high-quality and durable N95 mask models. Some of them include 3M N95 masks, like the models 3M 8210 and 3M 8511, which can be found for sale online, with options to buy in bulk or wholesale as well.
Anyone who uses a face mask is helping their healthcare providers stop the spread of the virus. Alternatives to N95 masks include KN95 masks, face shields, cloth masks, and surgical masks, and it’s important to always buy a smaller size for kids.