The N95 mask is the most useful line of defense for people. The N95 mask can filter 95% of particles of 0.3 microns in size. But as cases continue to bloat, the supply of the N95 mask became in demand. With the overwhelming demand for the supply of the N95 mask, this led to the mask to run scarce.
Reports have circulated regarding the reuse of the N95 mask. Some of the reports claim that there are others that use soap and water to disinfect the N95 mask.
Is soap a better way of disinfecting the N95 mask?
Soap has active ingredients that can harm the surface of the N95 mask. Since the N95 mask uses electrostatic charge in trapping particles on the surface, washing the used N95 mask with soap can alter the charge present on the surface. Also, the active ingredients in the soap can help disintegrate the fibers on industrial N95 masks. Also, there were no published studies proving soap as an effective disinfection method.
To prove that washing the N95 mask with soap and water is not safe, a study was conducted by an engineer. In a study, the engineer used a dirty N95 mask that was used in the outbreak. The engineer set up an improvised wind tunnel to test the percentage of the tiny particles that the washed N95 mask can filter.
The engineer washed the used N95 mask with soap that claims to kill 99% of bacteria and water. The N95 mask was dried overnight. The engineer used the washed N95 mask. It turns out, the N95 mask remained effective in trapping 99% of particles on the surface for 11 days to 30 days.
However, washing the used N95 mask with soap and water disintegrated the filtration efficiency by 21%. The N95 mask is designed to achieve 95% filtration efficiency. With only 78% filtration efficiency after washing, the washed N95 mask can endanger the wearer. This is almost as equivalent as disposing of the N95 mask.
Soap better works with reusable masks like cloth masks. After washing the cloth masks with soap and water, the best method to dry the cloth mask is through sunlight and air.
How can ordinary consumers disinfect their N95 masks?
Using Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide or VHP and Ultraviolet light or UV light are the most effective methods of disinfecting the used N95 masks. But these methods are the most expensive. They need specialized machines to help trap vapor and UV light. These machines are where the used N95 masks are placed for disinfection.
For ordinary consumers who wish to reuse their N95 masks, there are ways to disinfect the used N95 mask. Two of the most attainable and safe methods are dry heat and disinfectant spray.
Spraying disinfectant spray on the surface of the contaminated N95 mask can eliminate up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus. However, it might endanger the health of the wearer because some disinfectant sprays contain dangerous chemicals. This is why after spraying the disinfectant on the surface of the N95 mask, it is best to leave the mask for about 5 minutes.
Using Dry Heat can help eliminate bacteria and viruses on the surface of the used N95 mask. Heat is absorbed by the N95 mask to ensure that all microorganisms that live on the surface of the mask die. The heat ranges from 160oC to 170oC.
Why is there a need to reuse the N95 mask?
The World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend reusing the N95 mask. Reusing the N95 mask can potentially endanger anyone who wears it. Coronavirus can survive on the surface of the N95 mask for 7 days without a human host. This fact alone is a discouraging factor.
However, there is a worldwide scarcity of N95 masks. This leaves the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States to release a publication regarding the scarcity of the N95 mask. Since the supply of the N95 mask is nearly depleting, reusing the N95 mask can potentially help save the remaining supply of the mask.
Hospitals began reusing their used N95 masks as soon as the mandate from CDC came into effect. However, utilizing the used N95 mask still leaves a margin of potential contamination.
Aside from disinfecting the N95 mask, the CDC recommends people to use other alternatives to the N95 mask. This helps contain the supply to the healthcare workers and first responders. Since these people have first-hand experience with covid-patients and other covid-related incidents, the protection from the N95 mask can help them protect themselves.
These are the alternatives that people can use instead of the N95 mask.
The surgical mask may not be as efficient as the N95 mask but it still offers protection. A surgical mask has 3-ply protection. The outside layer surgical mask prevents the wearer from contacting any form of liquid substances and small to medium-sized particles. The inside layer of the surgical mask prevents the wearer from further spreading unknown bacteria that are present from the wearer’s breath. Also, the inside layer of the surgical mask is capable of holding liquid substances from the wearer such as saliva, mucus, and blood.
A cloth mask may not be as effective as the N95 mask but it has the convenience and the comfort that the N95 mask does have in smaller quantities. The cloth mask is made from woven fabric and is the most convenient protective mask available on the market. People often use cloth masks with a face shield on top for secured protection.