Does sterilization guarantee that masks will be coronavirus free?

The N95 mask is facing scarcity issues due to its overwhelming demand. This overwhelming demand alarms manufacturers of the N95 mask to double their time in supplying. With the overwhelming demand, some hospitals opted to reuse and extend the use of the N95 mask.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC released guidelines to properly reuse and extend the use of the N95 mask. The guidelines are proper measures as to how reusing and extending the shelf life of the N95 mask is done.

With regard to the extension of the use of the N95 mask, medical workers are advised to keep the N95 mask on their noses and mouths for an extended period. The N95 mask must not be removed while attending to patients with similar respiratory conditions from time to time.

Reusing the N95 mask means that after each and every patient encounter, the N95 mask should be doffed and donned properly. Here are the procedures for donning and doffing the N95 mask:

For Donning the N95 mask, the following procedures are:

  1. Use alcohol to disinfect both hands.
  2. Use only sterile surgical gloves. Carefully don them in both disinfected hands.
  3. The N95 mask must be inside the container. The container must have a label as to how many times the N95 mask has been used. Recover the N95 mask out from its labeled container.
  4. Avoid touching the inside of the N95 mask. Scan the N95 mask for any form of deformity, contamination, and nose fit.
  5. Don or Put the N95 mask on. Follow the proper way of donning the N95 mask to avoid possible contamination.
  6. Discard the used gloves
  7. Using alcohol, sanitize and disinfect the mask.

For Doffing the N95 mask, the following procedures are:

  1. Perform hand hygiene using alcohol and not hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizers are known to be less reactive than alcohol.
  2. Use sterile surgical gloves and put them on both hands.
  3. Remove the N95 mask off using your preferred hand. Use your other hand for handling the labeled container. (Note: do not use Ziploc containers because they are airtight)
  4. Place the N95 mask inside the labeled container.
  5. Remove gloves using glove and glove technique.
  6. Sanitize and disinfect using alcohol.

Aside from these, people are tapping into ways to disinfect their used N95 mask. The used N95 mask is the mask that is still in a good condition without any form of discoloration, any form of tearing and the fit is still okay. Some techniques include:

  • UV Sterilization. An ultraviolet light or UV light is used to break down the DNA and RNA of bacteria from the surface of the N95 mask.
  • VPH. Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide kills bacteria on the surface of the N95 mask inside a chamber. This is considered to be time-saving and the most efficient way of disinfection.
  • Disinfectant Spray. Spraying disinfectant on the surface of the N95 mask can help eliminate bacteria and viruses. However, chemicals within the disinfectant can harm the wearer. This is why the disinfected N95 mask is left for a couple of minutes for the chemicals to subside.
  • Ethanol. Ethanol targets the fat membrane exposing the bacteria’s insides.

Disinfection is definitely an integral part of repeating the use of the N95 mask. This allows the N95 mask to be free from any form of microorganism. However, after the disinfection process, the N95 mask is still open to the possibility of recontamination.

Does sterilization guarantee that masks will be coronavirus free?

With the given disinfection methods, this still poses a threat to masks like the N95 mask. Disinfection has established a reputation for removing and eliminating strains of bacteria and viruses off of surfaces of the N95 mask. But this does not mean that the disinfected N95 mask is free from the threat of coronavirus.

Coronavirus is different from any other virus. Disinfecting the virus itself can take up to minutes before the virus is fully eliminated.

Despite being disinfected, the N95 mask is still open to the threat of the virus. Disinfecting the used N95 mask does not damage the mask itself but once used again, it can trigger the bacteria that are still present on the mask. With the disinfection process like Dry Heat, Using Disinfectant Spray, and Ethanol, these cannot guarantee the total elimination of the bacteria on the surface of the N95 mask.

VPH and UV Sterilization are proven effective but they can be quite expensive due to a chamber wherein the used N95 mask is placed. Disinfecting the reuse N95 mask can damage the quality of the mask.

Disinfection may be effective but it only works in eliminating the microorganisms present on the surface of the N95 mask. Disinfection does not guarantee any protection from the threat of the coronavirus once the decontaminated mask is used again. Disinfection provides only a temporary action in terms of bacterial elimination. It may help the existing bacteria from spreading but it does not help in blocking the bacteria from exiting on the surface of the mask.

Primarily, disinfection only provides safety once the bacteria are eliminated. But once bacteria surfaced the mask, the mask was surely in threat.

What people should probably do is to observe social/physical distancing and minimize going outside too often. Your disinfected masks cannot provide an additional barrier. It is always better to observe safety within yourselves. 

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