Why disinfecting your mask with alcohol or bleach is almost certainly a bad idea

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Improper use of disinfectants can have negative effects on your health and the environment. It has always been true. But the pandemic has introduced a new wrinkle: certain disinfectants could also affect the effectiveness of your face mask.

In a recent article, researchers at North Carolina State University reviewed the scientific evidence for the potential long-term impacts on human health and the environment from misuse of disinfectants. The review also discussed the impact that certain disinfectants can have on N95s and cotton masks and other fabrics, as well as plastic surfaces. They published their findings in the journal ACS Chemical Health and Safety.

The summary spoke with senior author Januka Budhathoki-Uprety, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at NC State, and first author Hannah Dewey, graduate student at NC State, about disinfectants and how they could affect the usefulness of our face masks during the pandemic.

The summary: What are quaternary ammonium compounds and how do they work against viruses like SARS-CoV-2, which cause COVID-19?

Januka Budhathoki-Uprety: Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) are a group of chemical compounds that serve as active ingredients in hospital and household cleaners, fabric softeners, preservatives, surfactants, cosmetics, and other products. Studies have shown that QACs deactivate certain bacteria and viruses that have an envelope made up of phospholipids such as SARS-CoV-2.

Hannah Dewey: Research has shown that CAQs cause membrane disruption in bacteria and enveloped viruses by binding to phospholipids. This causes the membrane to rupture, and it means leakage of intracellular components.

TA: Does the type of cloth you use matter when using cleaning products that contain QACs as the active ingredients?

Dewey: Yeah. You may want to avoid cotton. In one study, researchers used cotton and synthetic wipes to wipe surfaces with QAC disinfectants. They reported that the use of cotton fabrics decreased the effectiveness of disinfectants compared to synthetic materials. The researchers noticed a decrease in the concentration of QAC available by an average of 85 percent, resulting in decreased effectiveness against bacteria.

TA: What do alcohol-based cleaning products and bleach do on N95 masks or cotton face covers?

Budhathoki-Uprety: N95 masks are effective because the materials are combined to provide mechanical and electrostatic trapping of particles. The use of chemical disinfectants is not a standard method of decontaminating N95 masks. If someone were to attempt to decontaminate an N95 mask with a chemical disinfectant or a disinfectant with alcohol, bleach, or other disinfectants, it could have a huge impact on the performance of the mask.

One study found that decontaminating face masks using alcohol and bleach can reduce the filtration efficiency of N95 masks, primarily due to reduced charge density on N95 filters. Studies have also shown that certain types of fabrics, including cotton, used in face masks can be destroyed by bleach and reduce the effectiveness of the coating.

We also believe that trying to decontaminate an N95 with a disinfectant that contains QACs as an active ingredient could impact the performance of the mask. For example, the electrostatic interactions between the positively charged QACs and the filters of N95 masks could hamper the functions and reduce the filtration efficiency of these masks.

Overall, the decontamination of face masks should be taken a close look and what you use to decontaminate them should be considered.

TA: What are the impacts of bleach on plastics and why is it important?

Budhathoki-Uprety: Polycarbonates, polystyrenes and polyethylene are used to make different items in our homes like water bottles, food containers, phone cases, eyeglass glasses or safety glasses etc. Plastics made from these polymers can be degraded by chemical disinfectants such as bleach and CAQ.

Bleach has an oxidizing effect on plastics via a chemical process where plastic polymers change their properties. Not all, but some plastic materials are susceptible to degradation on prolonged exposure to bleach. There are concerns about plastic degradation, the potential release of additives, and the excretion of microplastics into the environment.

Research has shown that if you frequently clean plastics and surfaces with certain disinfectants that contain QACs, it can damage those plastics, including surface damage resulting in scratches, where microbes, such as viruses, can get in. hide for a longer period of time.

TA: What do you want people to take away from the article?

Budhathoki-Uprety: The use of disinfectants has increased during the pandemic. Many types of disinfectant chemicals are frequently used to reduce viral transmission. But repeated exposure to disinfectants can have adverse long-term health effects. If these disinfectants are not used correctly, or if they are overused, we can be exposed to these chemicals through absorption, inhalation and ingestion. The proper and prudent use of these chemicals is extremely important as we fight the pandemic to protect our long-term health and the environment.

Cleaning tips from a chemist looking for disinfectants

More information:
Hannah M. Dewey et al, Increased use of disinfectants during the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential impacts on health and safety, ACS Chemical Health and Safety (2021). DOI: 10.1021 / acs.chas.1c00026

Provided by North Carolina State University

Quote: Why disinfecting your mask with alcohol or bleach is almost certainly a bad idea (2021, September 9) retrieved September 9, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-09-disinfecting -mask-alcohol-bad-idea. html

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