NEW YORK - Surgical masks and N95 respirators are in short supply amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is why the CDC and local authorities have asked the general public to wear cloth face coverings when they go outside.
But whatever type of covering you use, do not put it in the microwave to sanitize it, several fire departments across the country are warning, because doing so is a serious fire hazard.
A commercial-grade respirator contains a strip of metal at the bridge of the nose. Microwaving certain types of metal can create sparks, which can ignite the mask. Also, certain man-made fabrics can catch fire inside a microwave, some fire departments say. And even if the mask doesn't catch fire, the material could degrade, rendering it useless at trapping microbes.
With a huge spike in 911 calls related to the virus outbreak, the FDNY has enough to deal with. So don't risk starting a fire in the microwave.
"Thankfully we haven't seen that happen here," Deputy Commissioner Frank Dwyer told FOX 5 NY in an email. "No one should be using a microwave in that manner."
Besides, there is no clear evidence that microwaves will kill viruses, including the one that causes COVID-19. (Story continues)
An N95 respirator mask has a metal strip at the bridge of the nose. (FOX 5 NY photo)
So how should you clean your mask?
Well, if it is a cloth covering, the CDC recommends sticking it in a washing machine.
Surgical masks are generally disposable and should be thrown out when they get dirty.
Various videos online show how you can clean an N95 respirator if you have to but it isn't designed to be reused this way. But because of the shortage of such masks and other PPE amid the pandemic, the FDA issued emergency guidance to health care workers who are being forced to get the most mileage out of each piece of crucial equipment during a crisis. (Story continues)
"Disposable filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) are not approved for routine decontamination and reuse as standard of care," the CDC said. "However, FFR decontamination and reuse may need to be considered as a crisis capacity strategy to ensure continued availability."
You can read more about the emergency guidance here but keep in mind this is for hospital settings.
The best thing you can do is to use a face covering made from cloth (instead of a respirator or surgical mask) and then clean it either in a washing machine or by hand.