Decontaminating N95 Masks

File:N95mask.jpgI have a coupe of N95 masks I purchased a few years back for sanding projects. I have to assume all paint in my old house contains lead.

As of last night, the latest recommendation is now that everyone wear masks. I don’t have any cloth washable masks, or a way to make one, so I will have to make due with the couple of N95s I’ve got for now.

Since I only have a few, my first question was Is there some way to clean the masks for reuse?

I spent a few hours researching this last night. This morning I stumbled across a post made by the inventor of the N95 mask (Dr. Peter P. Tsai) on decontaminating them:

Information and FAQs on the Performance, Protection, and Sterilization of Face Mask Materials

I’ll try a to do a 50,000 foot summary of this post:

First, DO NOT clean it with alcohol. This will make the mask ineffective.

The methods of cleaning the masks that are feasible for consumers are:

  • Let it air dray for at least 3 days.

This procedure is simple, causes no damage to the mask, but means the mask is unavailable for quite a while. Given I’m only going out to get groceries at most once a week this is pretty workable for me.

  • Steam it for 5 minutes.

If I need a clean mask fast, this seems the most practical. I am thinking I can build something to hold the mask, then shoot it with steam from a tea kettle.

  • Boil it for 3 minutes

This is easier than steaming, but the inner or outer veil of the mask cannot be paper.

  • Heat it in an oven at 158F for 30 minutes

It cannot contact a metal surface during the process. You would have to come up with something to hang the mask on. You cannot trust the thermostat of the oven – you need an accurate external thermometer.

Always treat a used mask as contaminated. Take the appropriate measures to protect yourself from the mask until it is decontaminated.


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