Disinfecting your masks: the most frequently asked question
One of the most recurrent doubts in these times is whether there is any possibility of disinfecting the masks in order to use them more than once, specifically those that are initially for single use.
Whether it is to avoid generating more waste than necessary, to save money or because it is difficult these days to buy these highly demanded products, many people find it difficult to get rid of them. In the following lines we are going to tell you everything you need to know about the reuse of these valuable tools.
LISTEN TO THE MANUFACTURERS
It may sound redundant, but the main thing should be your safety and that of the people around you. Please follow the manufacturer's recommendations carefully and wear your mask as long and as often as indicated on the label.
That said, it is undeniable that the extraordinary circumstances in which we live have led to the need to extend their life. The problem this entails is that there are few scientific studies done on disposable masks about methods of mask disinfection that preserve their protective capabilities. Today, there is no scientific consensus on this issue.
Let's proceed with those masks that we do know how to properly reuse and then jump to the heart of the debate.
HOW TO DISINFECT A REUSABLE HYGIENIC MASK
Reusable hygienic masks should be labeled with instructions on how to wash them. The Ministry of Health has issued a document detailing some methods:
- Wash the masks in the washing machine with normal detergent and at a temperature between 60 and 90 degrees.
- Immerse the masks in a 1:50 dilution of bleach with warm water (50 of water for each millilitre of bleach) during 30 minutes. After this, wash them with soap and water, rinse them and let them dry.
- Use any of the virucidal products authorised by the Ministry of Health for PT2 (environmental use) that have passed Standard 14476 of virucidal activity and that are registered for use by the public. Once the masks have been disinfected, they must be washed with plenty of soap and water to remove any chemical residue and left to dry.
HOW TO DISINFECT HYGIENIC AND SURGICAL DISPOSABLE MASKS
The humidity of the water vapour released by our breathing easily affects the structural integrity of the fabric from which these masks are made. This is why it is recommended that they be worn only once for 4 hours after the container has been opened. The fragility of the material is responsible for making reuse more unsafe.
Any washing would render both types of masks unusable, so dry sterilization would be the only option. One study suggests that an effective way to kill any remaining viruses in these masks without further damaging the material is to expose it to the sun for seven days. Another faster method would be to put the mask in a special bag and place it in the oven for 30 minutes at over 70 degrees.
HOW TO DISINFECT IPE MASKS
The interest in reusing these masks is greater than with the others, given the cost of these pieces and their excellent protection capacity.
Some trials with PPE masks have had promising results in eliminating the virus while preserving their filtering capacity. These studies have used ultraviolet C range light, hydrogen peroxide, dry heat in convection ovens or moist heat. Unfortunately, these experiments are carried out with very sophisticated equipment and in a very controlled environment, so that home reproduction is impossible or deficient.
One method of sterilization that could be applied at home, although without the guarantees of a laboratory, is the same as for non-reusable hygienic or surgical masks: place the IPE inside the oven in a special bag for 60 minutes at 70 degrees. If the mask has a metal piece on the top, it is recommended to soak it in alcohol, since the virus survives better on metal surfaces.
FIRST OF ALL, COMMON SENSE
The best way to get the most out of our masks is to use them properly. Whether or not you want to try disinfecting your disposable masks, following these tips will help extend their life:
- Do not use these masks more than 3 times.
- Avoid placing the mask on any surface. Use it only for the rubber bands.
- Each family member should have his or her own mask.
- Pay attention to its condition: if it is stained, dirty, wrinkled, broken, smells bad or feels damp to the touch, don't hesitate to throw it away.