Can this rice-cooker hack disinfect disposable surgical masks so you can wear it more than once?

PHOTO: YouTube/Formosa TV English News Screengrab

[UPDATE, April 9]

While Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration's rice-cooker method uses dry heating to disinfect masks, health experts have warned against steaming face masks for reuse.

Under WHO’s “Mask Management” section, it states: Do not re-use single-use masks. Discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.”

A WHO spokesperson has also said: "[Steam] can potentially compromise the filter efficiency.”


[ORIGINAL ARTICLE]

Now that the government no longer discourages people from wearing masks and are even giving out free reusable masks to all residents, it's time to be socially responsible and put a mask on when you have to head out during the month-long "circuit breaker" period. 

If you're running low on surgical masks — which really should be reserved for healthcare personnel and people who are sick — here's a handy tip by the Taiwan health authorities. Psst, it requires using something most Singaporean homes will have... a rice cooker.

At a press conference in Taiwan last Sunday (April 5), Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director-General Wu Shou-mei and Health Minister Chen Shih-chung demonstrated how the common household appliance can extend the lifespan of a surgical mask. 

If your rice cooker or rice steamer comes with a metal rack, remember to place it at the bottom of the pot first. For most rice cooker units in Singapore, it usually comes with just the inner pot.

PHOTO: YouTube/Formosa TV English News Screengrab

Without adding water to the rice cooker, place the mask in the pot and cover the lid. Then, press the "cook" button and it will pop back up after three minutes. 

PHOTO: YouTube/Formosa TV English News Screengrab

For rice cookers with advanced settings, set the timer to three minutes and press "cook". Once it's done, leave the mask in the rice cooker for another five minutes for the heat to completely sterilise the mask.

This method can only be used for one mask at a time. If you're disinfecting more than one mask, wait for the rice cooker to cool down before repeating the steps. 

Chen noted that after the mask is disinfected in the rice cooker, it feels "nice and warm" and "smells good" too after putting it back on. 

Wu emphasised not to add water into the rice cooker "as this will damage the layer with static electricity." She had been referring to the middle layer found in three-ply surgical masks, which aids in the filtration of gaseous and liquid materials.

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As for using rubbing alcohol to disinfect the mask, she said: "It's actually not the best because this affects the same (static electricity) layer, too."

Based on FDA's findings, each mask can be disinfected using the rice cooker method for up to four to five times while maintaining its bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE) at 99 per cent. After which, the mask will be rendered ineffective.

Wu also advised to throw away torn or soiled masks and "for people with respiratory or chronic illnesses and those visiting hospitals, masks should be discarded after one use".

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also notes that flu viruses can be killed with temperatures above 75 degrees celsius

Since temperatures reach up to 100 degrees celsius for boiling water to cook rice, the rice cooker method should, in theory, be effective in disinfecting masks.

Watch the video to see how it's done:

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For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

melissagoh@asiaone.com