PLoS ONE (Jan 2022)

Dry heat sterilization as a method to recycle N95 respirator masks: The importance of fit

  • John G. Yuen,
  • Amy C. Marshilok,
  • Peter Todd Benziger,
  • Shan Yan,
  • Jeronimo Cello,
  • Chavis A. Stackhouse,
  • Kim Kisslinger,
  • David C. Bock,
  • Esther S. Takeuchi,
  • Kenneth J. Takeuchi,
  • Lei Wang,
  • Sruthi Babu,
  • Glen Itzkowitz,
  • David Thanassi,
  • Daniel A. Knopf,
  • Kenneth R. Shroyer

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 17, no. 1


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In times of crisis, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, the supply chain of filtering facepiece respirators, such as N95 respirators, are disrupted. To combat shortages of N95 respirators, many institutions were forced to decontaminate and reuse respirators. While several reports have evaluated the impact on filtration as a measurement of preservation of respirator function after decontamination, the equally important fact of maintaining proper fit to the users’ face has been understudied. In the current study, we demonstrate the complete inactivation of SARS-CoV-2 and preservation of fit test performance of N95 respirators following treatment with dry heat. We apply scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDS), X-ray diffraction (XRD) measurements, Raman spectroscopy, and contact angle measurements to analyze filter material changes as a consequence of different decontamination treatments. We further compared the integrity of the respirator after autoclaving versus dry heat treatment via quantitative fit testing and found that autoclaving, but not dry heat, causes the fit of the respirator onto the users face to fail, thereby rendering the decontaminated respirator unusable. Our findings highlight the importance to account for both efficacy of disinfection and mask fit when reprocessing respirators to for clinical redeployment.