Can you Freeze your Surgical Masks?

Wearing a mask is now compulsory in most nations. This complies with recommendations from health regulating agencies such as the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), and US Food and Drug Agencies (FDA). According to the recommendations, people are advised to comply with preventive and protective measures put in place to curtail the spread of the deadly coronavirus. 

These protective measures include wearing a face mask in the public and private spaces, the masks can either be cloth face mask or covering, surgical or medical masks, N95 masks. Though for the N95 masks, it is advised that people reserve them for the medical professionals and front-line workers.

Other protective measures include daily and frequent handwashing with soap and water or frequent hand sanitizing with hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol, physical or social distancing, and the wearing of other Personal Protective Equipment such as face shield and gown, etc. 

The need to cultivate the habit of wearing a face mask cannot be overemphasized. Bodies of evidence have proven that face coverings help to prevent the transmission of droplets from the respiratory system of another person via the nose and mouth from getting to the wearer. Nevertheless, to be able to maintain the integrity of the protective chain, the face mask must be maintained in a good condition.

It is good to note that the material used for the different types of face masks; cloth facemask, surgical masks, N95 respirators are quite different. Hence, the means of keeping them in good condition will be different as well.

Why the need to clean the facemasks?

Apart from the obvious fact that facemasks must be cleaned to be in a good condition, especially the cloth face masks, there are several reasons why people came up with the idea of cleaning facemasks.

One of these reasons is the economic situation of the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. People are finding it harder than before to make their living. The outbreak of the coronavirus has affected the economic state of most nations. Many individuals have lost their jobs and unemployment is now on the increase. For the groups that can retain their jobs, the wages were reduced. Also, the prices of goods and services have virtually increased because of the resultant inflation.

These have reduced the purchasing power of people across the world, hence the need to maintain their reserves and make sure it lasts longer than before. In an attempt to reduce the amount spent on essential goods and services, the cost of purchasing facemasks was also considered. This made people resort to reusing already purchased facemasks to the detriment of their health. To be able to protect the health of people and as well as protect their finances, the methods of safe cleaning were introduced.

Another reason is the shortage of face masks, especially the N95 masks in the global market. There is so much demand for these masks because it offers a high level of protection against viral and bacterial particles. These masks are capable of protecting against at least 95  percent of viral particles. This quality makes them the masks of choice for many.

Nevertheless, achieving this level of quality demands a lot of processes and this takes a long time. The masks are carefully produced, tested, and critically evaluated during the stages of production to ensure that they are capable of offering a high level of protection. Because of this long time of processing, there is always a shortage of supply when compared to the level of demand.

N95 masks or respirators are used most of the time by health professionals due to their high level of protection. To make sure that these masks are made available when needed by the frontline health workers, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advised the general public to reserve them for these workers.

The need to educate the people about the importance of keeping the face mask in a clean condition is another reason why recommendations are given by health regulating authorities. Some people do not yet understand the essence of making sure that the face mask is kept clean. The facemask must be maintained in a good state to ensure that its effectiveness is not compromised. To avoid self infection and prevent the transmission of contaminants that might be present due to bad maintenance and wrong mode of wearing, cleaning becomes important.

Approved ways to clean your face mask

According to the CDC, you can keep your face mask in good condition by washing them regularly. It was also advised that you have more than one mask on hand that can be easily changed to in the case of a dirty face mask. The agency also advised that if your mask is wet or dirty from saliva, sweat, make-up, or other liquids or substances, you should try to keep it in a sealed plastic bag until you can wash it. It is also advised that you endeavor to wash these store masks as early as possible.

To wash the masks, you can make use of a washing machine and you are free to wash them with your hands. But, these methods are not suitable for disposable surgical masks and N95 masks because they are designed for single use. After washing, make sure you dry them. This can be done either by air drying or making use of a warm or hot dryer.

What about freezing the masks?

 Many questions have arisen as to whether freezing of the surgical masks or N95 masks will help in decontaminating these masks from the deadly coronavirus. There has not been any specific study on sub-zero effects on the deadly virus. However, there is verifiable knowledge that other similar viruses when subjected to lower temperatures are most of the time very viable. Hence, it is uncertain that freezing face masks at subzero temperatures to sterilize the masks against the coronavirus will be of any help.

As far as sterilization is concerned the better option is to go for the heat methods, though for now, the CDC is yet to approve any heating method that is completely safe for the reuse of surgical masks and N95 respirators. This is because most of the time during the process of sterilization, the integrity of the mask materials and the filtering effectiveness is often compromised.

Conclusion

Surgical masks and other special masks such as the N95 masks are designed to be used once, hence, any attempt to reuse them which is against the manufacturer's recommendations and the CDC guidelines will reduce their effectiveness and may unnecessarily expose the users to invading organisms that could be otherwise prevented.

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