ATLANTA — You can cook just about anything in an Instapot, but researchers at the University of Illinois have found a new use for the compact cooking machines: sanitizing N95 face masks.
Researchers from the University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign found in a recent study that “50 minutes of dry heat in an electric cooker, such as a rice cooker or Instant Pot, decontaminated N95 respirators inside and out while maintaining their filtration and fit. This could enable wearers to safely reuse limited supplies of the respirators, originally intended to be one-time use items.”
N95 face masks are the primary face protection for professionals throughout the medical field, and have become in short supply throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The masks protect against airborne droplets and particles such as the coronavirus.
“A cloth mask or surgical mask protects others from droplets the wearer might expel, but a respirator mask protects the wearer by filtering out smaller particles that might carry the virus,” environmental engineering professor Thanh “Helen” Nguyen said.
The shortage of masks has caused medical facilities and professionals across the country to come up with creative ways to sanitize the masks and other personal protective equipment.
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“There are many different ways to sterilize something, but most of them will destroy the filtration or the fit of an N95 respirator,” environmental engineering professor Vishal Verma said. “Any sanitation method would need to decontaminate all surfaces of the respirator, but equally important is maintaining the filtration efficacy and the fit of the respirator to the face of the wearer. Otherwise, it will not offer the right protection.”
Nguyen and Verma realized that dry heat would likely kill any virus, and decided to test an electric cooker to see if maybe it would work. Turns out, it did.
“One cooking cycle, which maintains the contents of the cooker at around 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes, decontaminated the masks inside and out, from four different classes of virus, including a coronavirus — and did so more effectively than ultraviolet light,” the study said.
“The respirators maintained their filtration capacity of more than 95% and kept their fit, still properly seated on the wearer’s face, even after 20 cycles of decontamination in the electric cooker,” Verma said.
The researchers see potential for the electric-cooker method to be useful for health care workers and first responders, especially those in smaller clinics or hospitals that do not have access to large-scale heat sanitization equipment,” the study said.
The researchers have created a video showing you how to do it: