In early May 2020, Singapore’s Minister for Trade & Industry, Chan Chun Sing said the government will distribute “better” face masks made out of cloth that would be reusable. The reusable face masks would be distributed towards the end of the CB (circuit breaker) period which is expected to end on June 1st, 2020.

Mass production of reusable cloth masks locally started in February 2020, and the latest masks, “new and better” materials have been used, which provide the user improved bacterial filtration capabilities.

As quoted by Mr Chan, “Actually all the while we have planned on the distribution of the reusable masks because we know that after we distribute the first one, beyond a certain time, we will need to refresh some of these.

“And as with all the reusable masks, even though it is reusable, it is not reusable for eternity. Beyond a certain point in time, people do change their masks.”

According to Professor Alfred Huan from A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore), the latest masks have improved bacterial filtration “without compromising on breathability” which was optimized when compared to surgical masks.

“In the earlier version, the focus was more about protecting the community from each of the wearers, and depending on the kind of cloth or material, reusability would vary quite a bit. And it wasn’t really tested for any kind of bacterial filtration at that point.”

“The second-generation masks have added bacterial filtration. So obviously, if someone is concerned about walking into an area where there is potentially a lot of viral load, then he could be using that second mask, and it will be more effective in offering him some way of protection.

Mr Chan further added, “That strategy of using a cloth mask works if all of us mask up together.”

The new reusable face masks are a result of a collaboration between A*STAR and local apparel manufacturer Ramatex, with production beginning in April 2020.

In a joint press release, A*STAR and Ramatex announced that the masks can be hand washed with mild detergent and fully air-dried. “This can be done up to 30 times while maintaining its integrity,” they stated.

A special feature of the reusable mask is its duck beak design that does away with the metal nose strip used in disposable masks.

A reusable face mask produced by A*STAR and Ramatex. (Photo: A*STAR)

A reusable cloth mask made by Ghim Li. (Photo: People’s Association)

Machine-wash or hand-wash? Cleaning reusable cloth masks the right way

How often should reusable face masks be cleaned? Dr Daniel Griffin, an infectious diseases expert at Columbia University, advises you wash your reusable face mask as often as you wash your underwear, i.e., every time after using it.

Note: This advice is for reusable cloth masks.

Reusable face masks can be washed along with your daily laundry done in the washing machine. There is no need to buy antibacterial laundry detergent, as “Antibacterial detergents or soaps have not proven consistently to have additional benefit over normal ones,” said head and senior consultant at Changi General Hospital’s Infectious Diseases department, Dr Raymond Fong, “Washing with clean, warm water and soap should suffice.”

Use the hottest setting on your washing machine and then let the heat from the sun or a dryer do the work of eradicating any remaining bacteria on the mask. If you have reservations washing your reusable mask with other laundry items, simply hand wash it and put it out in the sun to dry. Use a dryer with a high temperature setting on cloudy days.

“Wash your mask with warm, soapy water for at least one minute and dry it, preferably in the sun,” said Dr Fong. “Regular cleaning, especially after a day’s use or when the mask is visibly soiled or moist is most important.

“One study suggested that the duration of sun exposure required to reduce contamination of some viruses by 90 per cent is over an hour of direct exposure to midday sun.”.

Boiling a reusable mask is another good method, but the downside to this is the fast deterioration of your mask. Professor Rachel Nobel, microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recommends boiling a reusable mask for at least 5 minutes, but not more than 10 times. This method could be done once a week in addition to the daily washing of a reusable face mask.

By Aaron
27th May 18:35

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