Study: Disposable Masks Can Be Decontaminated at Home

New research from Rice University in Houston says disposable surgical masks, a key form of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be effectively decontaminated by heating them in a standard oven.

In a November news announcement, researchers said that heating to 160° Fahrenheit in an oven for five minutes “will eliminate the virus that causes COVID-19 from a standard disposable surgical mask without degrading the mask itself.”

The research was published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials and was led by Daniel Preston, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, as well as Rice graduate student Faye Yap, and collaborators from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

The published report said heating masks to 70° Celsius “killed more than 99.9 percent of SARS-CoV2 and other viruses they tested, meeting FDA [U.S. Food & Drug Administration] guidelines for decontamination.”

Researchers tested other potential decontamination methods, such as exposing masks to ultraviolet light, but the light didn’t reach into the masks’ folds.

Researchers added that the 70° Celsius mark should work equally well on cloth masks as long as all layers of the masks maintain that temperature for five minutes. Higher temperatures melted and damaged masks.

While researchers said the act of decontaminating disposable masks wouldn’t prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, researchers hope that effectively decontaminating masks could help if new masks are in short supply. Learning how to decontaminate masks in this pandemic could also be helpful “for adapting the protocol to handle future outbreaks where personal protective equipment is at a premium.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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