“The Battelle Institute has developed a process for which they use a hydrogen peroxide solution and a steam process that allows them to disinfect N95s for healthcare workers and returns them to their original state without any harm being done to the mask,” said Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda.
But experts say attempting to disinfect or clean masks at home could end up defeating the purpose. There are many online tutorials and suggestions that make use of steam, bleach, a microwave oven and other methods to disinfect masks.
Skoda says the microwave is a very bad idea.
“I would discourage anyone from using any sort of heat autoclave microwaving, putting it in the oven for four hours (or using) your own peroxide solution, simply because you will destroy the fibers in that mask and you cannot tell if it really will continue to work at the same level, not to mention if you are microwaving there is a fire risk of your mask catching on fire,” said Skoda.
She shared with photos with sister station WJW of a mask that did catch on fire during an attempt to disinfect it. As for steaming a mask, Skoda says it is not recommended, particularly for paper masks.
“First of all, steaming it may or may not be able to completely disinfect that but those masks are not meant to get wet and they are going to start to disintegrate,” said Skoda, adding “they are not meant to be something you can wash and wear and keep hanging up; they are paper and so any time you put that in water or steam it or make it really hot you are going to destroy fibers in it.”
The fabric face coverings can, and should, be washed with the laundry.
Experts recommend hot water and say commercial laundry detergent is fine.
But how you handle the mask after it is washed or after it is worn is equally as important.
A clean mask should be stored in a plastic bag rather than left laying out in the open where it can be contaminated.
While putting it on, your hands should be washed and only the ear straps should be touched.
After use, the mask should be folded so that the inside of the mask, the closest to your mouth and nose, is exposed to let it air out before storing it again.
The most important recommendation when handling or touching anything that can be contaminated continues to be frequently washing and disinfecting your hands.
Wearing a face covering continues to be recommended by public health officials for the safety of yourself and others while you are out in public places.
Perhaps the most important suggestion regarding the preservation of masks and face coverings from public health experts is to limit the time you spend in those public places, and only go out when it is absolutely necessary.