July 9, 2020 – As one of the best lines of defense against coronavirus, N95 masks are vital for healthcare workers treating infected patients.
Although the masks are meant to be used once, the growing need and persistent shortages have led hospitals to try mask sterilization techniques such as hydrogen peroxide vaporization, UV light, and thermal incubation. A recent study by the American Society for Microbiology proposes a new, much more accessible and affordable decontamination tool: a microwave.
Researcher James E. Kirby, MD, of Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center says study results are crucial for many healthcare centers that lack the high-capacity sterilization systems of large hospitals .
“We knew there was a critical shortage of personal protective equipment and N95 masks, and we knew there was a need for a solution,” he says.
The team of eight researchers set out to provide an easy method of disinfection to different health care settings, including “outpatient practices, frontline providers and remote clinical settings”.
“The aim of this work was to identify a widely accessible microwave-generated steam decontamination method,” the article says. “For this purpose, we have used only common household items.”
Materials include water, glass container, mesh, rubber band, and a 1100 or 1150 watt microwave. The researchers filled the container with 60 milliliters of water, then secured the mesh material on top with a rubber band. They then placed the N95 mask on the mesh and put it in the microwave for 3 minutes. It effectively killed all viruses, including the coronavirus, they say.
“It’s simple, but sometimes very simple things work well,” says Kirby.
The researchers found that this sterilization method could be repeated 20 times on a single N95 mask without damage. Even though the type of mask they used had a piece of metal, they didn’t have an issue with heating or sparking during the 20 test cycles, Kirby said.
Although the study was done with healthcare facilities in mind, Kirby doesn’t see the harm in trying the same method at home.
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