RU scientists conceive faster way to decontaminate N95 masks

During the height of the pandemic, when N95 masks were in short supply, many medical professionals risked becoming patients themselves by trying to disinfect the N95 masks they had been using.

“We would spend upwards of four to five hours to hang individually 400 masks,” said Courtney Grady, a graduate student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

That wait time to clean the masks properly has now been cut in half, thanks to researchers at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School using vaporized hydrogen peroxide.

“We can decontaminate or sterilize 12,000 to 15,000 masks in less than a day, it’s very quick and not expensive compared to other methods,” said Riccardo Russo, director of BSL3 Operations at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Grady and Russo are part of a team from Rutgers that identified the decontamination strategy that can now be implemented in hospitals and medical centers across the state.

“The way this method was designed, it uses a single room that uses a separate air supply filtration system,” Grady said. “That way, we are able to use vaporized hydrogen peroxide, which when it’s utilized, the only thing left over is water vapor. And we are able to do this in a small setting so that it can be applied not only at a large hospital setting but at smaller hospitals or clinical studies as well.”

When asked if there is an option for doctors who want to only use their disinfected mask and not a random one that’s decontaminated with thousands of other masks, Russo says writing their names over the mask would take forever.

“In the hospital, the doctor or nurse put the mask, one or two, in the paper bag. And we sterilize the masks inside the paper bag and you can easily give back paper back to the owner because they can write their name and we saw this is very feasible,” Russo said.

Russo and Grady caution that a mask can only be reused a limited number of times before it needs to be discarded. They say their next challenge is to test how they can successfully decontaminate face shields and surgical masks.