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Coronavirus: Instant Pots disinfect N95 masks in 50 minutes

The Instant Pot is a single appliance said to do the job of seven kitchen devices and experts have just added one more use – sanitizing N95 masks.

Researchers found respirator masks can be decontaminate in just 50 minutes of dry heat produced by an electric cooker, allowing wearers to safely reuse the face cover.

One cooking cycle at 212 degrees Fahrenheit can disinfect the mask, inside and out, from four different classes of viruses, including the deadly coronavirus that is still plaguing much of the world.

The masks used in the experiment kept their fit and maintained filtration capacity of more than 95 percent, deeming it more effective than ultraviolet light.

The study was conducted by a team at the University of Illinois that set out to address the severe shortages of N95 masks.

This specific mask protects the wearer against airborne droplets and particles and has become the gold standard for healthcare and essential workers who are risking their lives to save others amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Thanh ‘Helen’ Nguyen said: ‘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.’

There are a number of ways to sterilize an N95 mask, but as Vishal Verma, who was involved in the study, noted many of the current methods will ‘destroy the filtration or the fit of an N95 respirator.’

‘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,’ continued Verma.

‘Otherwise, it will not offer the right protection.’

The two researchers began this study with the idea that dry heat may solve the issue and meet all three criteria: decontamination, filtration and fit.

They also searched for a method that is widely accessible to the public, which turned them to an electric cooker.

They verified that one cooking cycle, which maintains the contents of the cooker at around 212 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes, decontaminated the masks, inside and out, from four different classes of virus, including a coronavirus.

And the team said it was more effective than ultraviolet light. 

The next step was testing the filtration and fit.

‘We built a chamber in my aerosol-testing lab specifically to look at the filtration of the N95 respirators, and measured particles going through it,’ Verma said.

‘The respirators maintained their filtration capacity of more than 95 percent and kept their fit, still properly seated on the wearer’s face, even after 20 cycles of decontamination in the electric cooker.’

The team notes to safely carry out the method, a towel needs to be placed on the bottom of the cooker and the mask on top to avoid burning the N95.

However, multiple masks can be stacked to fit inside the cooker at the same time, Nguyen said.

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