Before getting into the best and worst ways to disinfect N95 masks, it should be noted that these medical-grade masks should be reserved for healthcare workers only as there is a global shortage at the moment.
If you are a normal citizen and aren't working on the front battling the coronavirus, there is absolutely no reason for you to own an N95. For every N95 mask that is owned by someone who doesn't need it, someone in healthcare that actually needs it doesn't have one. N95 masks contain a layer "meltblown" polypropylene fibers that form a porous, breathable network. These fibers are electrostatically charged to help stop particles from slipping through the gaps.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended ways of disinfecting these masks after prolonged use. Some of the ways the CDC recommends are heating, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and bleach treatment. A team of scientists decided to put these disinfectant methods to the test to see which one was the best course of action. Yi Cui and colleagues took pieces of meltblown fabric that's used to make the masks and sprayed it with ethanol or chlorine bleach solution. What they found was that it reduced the filtration efficiency of the fabric from 95% to only 56% (ethanol) and 73% (bleach).
The team also took steam cleaned the fabric and found that after just five steam cleans, the filtration efficiency had a sharp decline. UV radiation cleaning was also tested, and the team found that the fabric could be disinfected 20 times. Ultimately, the team found the best way possible to disinfect N95 face masks, and that is - heating. Cooking the fabric at 185 F for 20 minutes can disinfect the mask 50 times before there is a loss in filtration efficiency.
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