Reusable cloth face masks are cheaper than buying disposable medical masks, they’re easier to find, and they can be tailored to fit one’s face for a better seal. The only downside is that these masks must be washed regularly to rid them of bacteria and viruses that may stick to the fabric; failure to do this means you may be transferring them to surfaces whenever you touch your mask and then touch a surface.
A new study published by the American Chemical Society details the development of a new type of cotton face mask that can be disinfected by leaving it exposed to sunlight for an hour. The idea is that you may forget to wash your mask on occasion, but it is much easier to place it on a windowsill, hang it from your car’s rearview mirror, or place it on an outdoor surface while on your lunch break.
The face mask is made from ordinary cotton fabric that was modified to release reactive oxygen species (ROS) under sunlight exposure. This fabric was found to kill 99.9999-percent of an ROS-resistant virus, as well as bacteria, in a single hour.
The fabric is washable and able to withstand being hand washed ‘at least 10 times,’ according to the study. Washing with hot water and soap is still the recommended way to disinfect the masks, but sunlight exposure during the day may serve as a beneficial practice to help reduce the pathogens transferred from the mask to surfaces during times when washing isn’t practical.
Such antimicrobial fabric may one day find use in face masks, as well as protective clothing, in situations such as viral outbreaks to help reduce surface contamination. It’s unclear at this time whether the researchers plan to commercialize their unique fabric, however.
Note: The CDC has provided guidance on best safety practices regarding face coverings, including storing dirty masks and ways to wash them.