MIT creates reusable rubber face mask as effective as N95 masks

A new face mask prototype introduces a tantalizing alternative to the coveted N95 face mask, offering a reusable version made from silicone rubber that has the same level of effectiveness. The project comes from researchers with MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital who explain that this mask can be made using the injection molding systems that are already available in a number of factories.

Public health officials expect that cases of coronavirus will spike in the United States later this year — and when combined with the flu season, the outcome may be tragic. Hospitals are still facing a shortage of N95 face masks, which are able to filter the majority of virus particles, helping keep healthcare workers safe during aerosolizing procedures.

N95 masks aren't technically reusable, but we've seen a number of companies get EUAs from the FDA for systems designed to sanitize these masks, enabling workers to reuse them multiple times. A better alternative may be one that is intended for reuse and that requires fewer disposable materials.

The new type of N95 alternative is made from silicone rubber and features a removable N95-grade filter that only requires a fraction of the materials of a traditional N95 disposable mask. The researchers based their mask on the same shape used by the 3M for its 1860-style N95 mask. These reusable masks have room for two N95 filters.

As a result, users would throw away far fewer materials than with normal N95 masks. Multiple sterilization options could be used, including soaking in bleach or rubbing alcohol, autoclaving, and even using an oven. A second version of the mask with added durability and comfort is currently in development.