The year 2020 is nearing its end and in just over two months we will no longer be living in one of the strangest and worst years in human history. So much tragedy and loss have occurred both towards the human civilization and the planet as a whole and everyone is eagerly looking forward to 2021.
Absolutely the worst part of the current year has been the pandemic of COVID-19 that has caught most countries completely unprepared for such a state. Coronavirus paralyzed the globe for months, stopped traffic and transportation of people as well as the trading of the most basic goods. Governments repeatedly failed to step up and protect the citizens and every country’s worst woes came to light.
In such a state of complete chaos, quarantine, isolation, and curfew, people mostly looked to their own wits and practiced what they thought would protect them and their loved ones best. Most obvious of all was an increased level of hygiene with a more frequent and thorough washing of hands, but the greatest weapon in the fight against the new virus was of course face masks.
The Face Mask Phenomenon
They were highly advised in the fight against coronavirus from its early stages, well before the first peek of the pandemic. Back then, people used whatever they could as nobody has yet issued an official statement on what masks do the trick best.
Therefore, some wore industrial masks or the ones builders often use at construction sites. While they can limit some particles and molecules, the virus is able to penetrate a number of them. When things started to shape up, everyone realized that surgical masks were among the best. They are disposable and you would only wear a single one for one prolonged outing or a few relatively short ones.
Even now most people wear one-and-done surgical masks since they are the cheapest, the lightest, and require no maintenance. While it does create more waste in the streets and puts yet another strain on the already overflowing garbage and pollution problem, the circumstances have made them the go-to solution.
The N95 Mask
A much better alternative to regular surgical ones is the N95 masks, which are stronger, more durable, and sturdier in both quality and efficiency. They have special respirators and filters within their bodies that make them a better option for those who like to reuse and produce less waste in general. Here there will be more word about N95 face masks, and if you wish to learn more about them and order some of the best ones on the market, make sure to visit Canberra Diamond Blade.
These masks are designed to capture and contain at least 95% of particles whose median measures 0.3 µm. The outer layer of the mask is made of hydrophobic polypropylene. While most manufacturers advertise and brand their basks for one-time use only, the N95 masks are great for reusing but only if this is done the right way. In times of scarcity, this proves to be quite useful and nifty.
The prolonged single use of one N95 mask is deemed safe for up to 8 hours. For additional safety, you can wear a face shield over it, but this is of course impossible in many scenarios. A good idea is to rotate masks so as to prolong the usage life of each one. A viable strategy is to take five masks and change them daily. The virus particles of COVID-19 lose their viability almost entirely after 72 hours. This means that you should leave a mask to dry and rest for 72 hours after you use it, during which time you will be alternating between the other ones. Repeat this and you will have great reuse and no-waste practice.
According to several studies carried out by research centers and governments, the respirators on N95 masks can be safely cleaned and decontaminated without damaging their functionality. However, this can only be done two or three times, depending on various factors like how long one has worn a mask, in what conditions, and how appropriately they used it.
The best way of cleaning such masks proved to be ultraviolet light and vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP). They are quite successful at killing the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. They are mild enough to allow two to three goes with a single mask. The filtration was deemed acceptable even after the third round in some cases.
VHP proved to be the faster solution and it eliminated the viral growth to the mask in about 10 minutes. The ultraviolet light on the other hand needed around an hour to drop the contamination to acceptable levels.
Regarding some more consumer-friendly solutions, the same study, as well as multiple others, looked at 70% ethanol as a possible decontaminator. The proposed course of action is to spray it on a mask and heat it in the oven at 70°C or 158°F for 10 minutes. Ethanol quickly decontaminates the respirators but only once. If you do it the second time the mask will be rendered useless against the coronavirus.
In case you wish to use an N95 two or three times, you can try dry heating it. This method is slower at but you will be able to use the mask at least three times in total. It is done by heating the mask at 70 °C for 30 minutes, enough to kill the virus and preserve the filter.
What to Avoid
In trying to reuse an N95 mask, there are certain things you should absolutely never do. Avoid bleach, baking, boiling, and ethylene oxide. In addition, do not microwave it as the variable power settings of home microwaves are not always precise. The metal parts can also catch fire while heating. Lastly, sanitizing wipes, soapy water, and antibacterial disinfection gels have no effect and will not remove any virus contamination. While fabric varieties can be washed in the washing machine, do not try to wash N95s like this, especially at high temperatures, since the materials tend to get ruined.