N95 masks should only be reused in situations where supply is limited.
N95 Face Mask and Instant Pot
Credit: Getty Images/belchonock; Getty Images/JJ Gouin

As the novel coronavirus continues to affect millions of Americans, it's important to wear a mask whenever you're in a public space. And while non-medical grade masks (like this one with a nose wire) work for the majority of Americans, many frontline workers (e.g. hospital staff) need masks like N95s, which are more effective in filtering out airborne particles.

While these face masks are typically used once, the CDC has recommended methods for sanitizing N95s with moist heat when there are shortages of personal protective equipment. And that's where your Instant Pot comes in. The Department of Homeland Security recently released a how-to video that demonstrates the proper steps for sanitizing an N95 mask. Here's how it works.

How to Sanitize an N95 Mask with an Instant Pot or Multicooker

Materials Needed

  • Multicooker with a sous vide function or equivalent setting

  • A rack to place in the multicooker

  • Disposable or reusable gloves

  • Measuring cup

  • Distilled or bottled water (for a 6QT cooker: 2-⅛ cups, for a 8QT cooker: 3 cups)

  • Paper bag

  • A stapler or paper clip

  1. Fill the bottom of your multicooker with the pre-measured water. You'll want to make sure the entire bottom is covered.
  2. Place the rack at the bottom of the multicooker. Make sure the rack sits above the water, as you will want to keep the mask and bag dry. If your rack isn't tall enough, the video suggests attaching binder clips to the bottom to elevate the height of the rack.
  3. While wearing your gloves, place the used mask in the paper bag (you can dispose of your gloves after placing the mask inside). You can sanitize up to three masks at a time in one bag. Then, fold over the top of the bag and close it with a staple or paper clip.
  4. After placing the bag on the rack, secure the top. Next, select the sous vide function and set the temperature to 149 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes and start the cycle.
  5. After the cycle has ended, release the top as per manufacturer instructions (no need to worry about releasing the pressure since you used the sous vide function) and remove the bag. Allow the masks to dry on a clean surface for about one hour.
  6. Before using the mask, make sure to examine it for any damage around the straps or nose sealing. If there is damage, discard the mask. If not, the mask is ready for reuse.

According to the DHS, you can sanitize an N95 mask up to five times before it loses its effectiveness. While not an ideal situation, this trick will help extend the life of necessary equipment that many people need to stay safe and healthy. For more information about this process, you can check out these frequently asked questions and best practices.