While the CDC has recommended that all Americans wear cloth face masks to limit the spread of COVID-19, many of us have used N95 respirators lying around from old painting projects that can provide even more protection against the virus. If your masks are still in their sealed, original packaging, you should consider donating them for use by frontline healthcare workers, but if they’ve already been used, there’s no harm in donning them yourself if you have to leave the house.
But of course, N95 masks are disposable, and only meant to be used once. But if you want to get a little more life out of yours before you throw it out, the Department of Homeland Security just came out with instructions for decontaminating yours with an Instant Pot or similar multicooker.
What You’ll Need
- An N95 or similar disposable mask.
- A brown paper lunch bag.
- An Instant Pot multi cooker, preferably one with a sous-vide function. You won’t actually be using the pressure cooking feature, so the non-pressure cooking Instant Pot Aura would also work.
- A trivet; the one that came with your Instant Pot should work just fine, or you could use a hard boiled egg tray.
- A stapler or a few paper clips.
What to Do
- Put your mask or masks (DHS recommends no more than three) inside a paper bag, and shut it with staples or paper clips.
- Add a half inch of filtered water to the bottom of your Instant Pot.
- Set the bag inside the pot on top of a metal or silicone trivet. Don’t submerge the bag in the water.
- Using the sous-vide function of the Instant Pot (or the “Warm” function on some older models, with the manual temperature option), set your pot to 149 °F, close the lid, and set it to run for 30 minutes.
- At the end of the cycle, remove the bag from the pot and open it up, allowing the mask to dry for at least 1 hour.
That’s it! The “moist heat” of the water will kill any viruses or bacteria on the mask, and the paper bag allows the steam to clean the mask while preventing it from getting too wet. DHS has tested this to be effective at least five times on a single mask, and 3M (the largest manufacturer of N85 respirators) says it’ll work 10 times. But of course, if your mask is visibly torn or damaged, you should throw it away immediately.