Duke finds a way to clean coronavirus masks with peroxide

A WAVE 3 News crew encountered more than a dozen Wednesday afternoon looking for the masks but...
A WAVE 3 News crew encountered more than a dozen Wednesday afternoon looking for the masks but had no luck.(Pixabay)
Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 11:28 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Doctors at Duke say they have figured out a way to clean the face masks that block the coronavirus.

With the country facing a shortage of N-95 masks, the process of spraying used masks with vaporized hydrogen peroxide could allow them to be re-used up to 50 times, Duke University Health System Vice President Dr. Monte Brown said Thursday.

“We’re hoping this is a bridge to the manufacturing industry to be able to ramp up and distribute,” Brown told CBS 17. “We’re worried about what the potential need is in the future, so this is just one of many ways we’re doing it. We think this will have a significant dent in extending the life of our masks.”

A machine that Brown compared to a household carpet cleaner turns the hydrogen peroxide into a vapor and sprays it on the masks, killing germs and viruses, including the new coronavirus, before the peroxide breaks down into ordinary water.

The technique was used for years in Duke’s biocontainment laboratory, said the lab’s associate director, Scott Alderman. They tested it on masks during the past two weeks and uncovered research from 2016 that found they could be decontaminated and reused 30-50 times, Brown said.

“There was an ‘a-ha’ moment that we needed to try it and prove that it would actually work,” Brown said.

“We knew it would actually kill everything in the masks, but we wanted to validate that it would still work as protection for employees,” he added.

Brown says Duke is making the process available, adding that many health systems and pharmaceutical companies already have the necessary equipment but are using it in different ways.

“This is totally commercialized technology that’s widely used in the pharmaceutical industry, in biosciences, in their cleaning processes,” Brown said. “I have now learned that other hospitals have been using it to clean other things for years. Not N-95 masks but other medical equipment and what we’ve done is validated what has been done in the laboratory is safe for N-95 masks.”

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