Somehow, it has become “normal” to go out wearing masks at all times worldwide — and for good reason. We do it to go to the grocery store, take a walk, or encounter some friends while still practicing social distance — and drastically inhibit the spread of COVID19 and other contagious diseases.
In many parts of the country, the new normal is to wear a mask, period. So, what is the appropriate way to really clean the masks after going out? Or to disinfect it? Many of our customers have asked since they’ve begun to switch from disposable masks to store-bought (or homemade) reusable ones.
Before we dive into it, it is essential to remember that masks reduce virus transmission from the mask-wearer and virus inhalation by the mask-wearer. So, it is a virtuous cycle that’s reliant on not only cleaning but regular cleaning — think daily. And last but not least, for protection, masks must cover the nose and mouth.
There are many protocols on how to clean and disinfect N95-type masks; however, there are no such protocols for cloth masks. The studies for the disinfection of N95s are based on SARS-CoV-2 or virus quantity reduction or inactivation measurements, so one could wonder that it can also be used for cloth masks.
There is evidence supporting heat inactivation of viruses like SARS-CoV-2, Influenza H1N1, and Influenza H5N1 on N95 respirators. One study showed that by microwaving the respirators for 2 minutes in a container was sufficient to deactivate Influenza H1N1, considering a 1250 W microwave power. A similar result was obtained when respirators contaminated with Influenza H5N1 were microwaved for 1.5 minutes in a steam bag (1100 W microwave power).
Specifically, for the SARS-CoV-2, there is no study using a microwave to disinfect masks. But there is one study that showed SARS-CoV-2 inactivation with dry heat. This study literally baked the N95 respirators inside an oven for 60 minutes at 70°C or 158°F and got acceptable disinfection results.
But thinking about what people have at home, washing your cloth masks with soap and water is already pretty efficient. If you want to go above and beyond and try to disinfect them, you could try the microwave or conventional oven methods— but first, always wash the cloth mask with soap and water.
And remember to stay safe and be kind during these challenging times.