A question about reusing masks
March 22, 2020 8:05 AM   Subscribe

If viruses don't survive long on surfaces (the coronavirus survives 24 hours on cardboard, flu viruses survive only around four hours on clothes, etc) why would they survive on masks? I have a reusable mask (Vogmask) originally purchased for wildfire smoke and would like to use it on once-a-week grocery trips. Will time alone take care of viruses? The outside of the mask can also be wiped with a disinfectant wipe, but my main question is just about time.

I realize that the CDC doesn't recommend the use of facemasks and that there are huge shortages of N95 masks. But I already have this mask and believe that it can help at least to some extent. It sounds like the virus is carried in droplets that are larger than the virus itself, and therefore could likely be blocked by the mask. I'm in an area with a lot of infections and sheltering in place, but have a small apartment/fridge and need to continue having weekly trips to the grocery store. (Grocery delivery services seem completely overwhelmed here right now.) I used the mask briefly during the last wildfire but haven't used it during the outbreak yet. If I did use it, I would remove it carefully without touching the front of the mask and would wash my hands.
posted by pinochiette to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think the problem is with the wear and tear on the material. Over time it's fibrous filter structure can come apart, or become clogged by particles, impacting it's effectiveness.
posted by nickggully at 8:20 AM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that the virus itself is small enough to go through most particulate filter materials. However, masks can still be effective at filtering out large virus-containing water droplets, e.g. if someone sneezes or coughs near you, and perhaps most importantly if you cough or sneeze yourself.

"Effective" at this point isn't just a yes/no question, it's a question of "better than what?" Even t-shirt material is better than nothing at catching water droplets, and your Vogmask is probably better than that, so there's probably no harm in using it if you have it.

What I wouldn't do is let the mask lure you into a false sense of security where you then go and stand close to other people, touch stuff or go places you otherwise wouldn't, etc. This is the concern that I have heard some public-health people articulate about masks: it's not that they are totally ineffective but their effectiveness could be less than the deleterious effect on people's behavior if they believe they're a magic bullet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:08 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, I'm interested in how long the virus could potentially last on the mask. The mask is designed to be reusable. I noted in the question that I thought that it could help with droplets, not the virus itself.
posted by pinochiette at 9:15 AM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

There is a lot of conflicting information about mask effectiveness right now, but it's clear they don't hurt. As Kadin2048 says, you will be safest if you act like the mask is completely ineffective, but then wear your mask anyway. Also if you only have one, after you wear it out to shop you need to remove it very carefully and keep it quarantined away from your other goods somehow, which could be difficult in practice.
posted by JZig at 9:15 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you can reduce your trips, please do. Lots of fruit & veg keep quite well, meat can be frozen.

Sure, use the mask. I'd hang it in the sun to refresh it.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on March 22, 2020

Weekly. Set it outside in the sun for a few days each side. Better than nothing. I might try putting it in the toaster oven at 250℉ (just don't burn it, may damage elastic bits). Do what you can to avoid the droplet encounters that having a mask might help.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:56 AM on March 22, 2020

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