Study: Rice Cookers May Actually Be A Good Way To Clean Face Masks

A new study examined whether a short cycle of steam treatment using a kitchen rice cooker can decontaminate face masks. [Jimmy Vong / Shutterstock]
A new study examined whether a short cycle of steam treatment using a kitchen rice cooker can decontaminate face masks. [Jimmy Vong / Shutterstock]

Updated on May 19, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.

A new peer-reviewed study examined whether a short cycle of steam treatment using a kitchen rice cooker can decontaminate face masks.

The study’s authors — from Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center — found steam treatment is more effective than dry heat or an ultraviolet light treatment at cleaning cloth masks, surgical masks and N95 respirators.

"This is an option that someone could consider. It's pretty safe and quick, and in our experience it's obviously very effective," said study author Dr. Curtis Donskey.

The study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, found steam from a rice cooker is nearly as effective as concentrated hydrogen peroxide, a method that MetroHealth uses to disinfect masks.

Donskey said they did not compare the effectiveness of using a rice cooker to soap and water, which is the way many doctors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend cleaning cloth face masks.

The study did not examine the effect it could have on the face mask’s performance.

Doctors have said there is a risk of hurting yourself attempting to use steam heat for at-home sterilization, and soap and water effectively clean cloth face masks.  

Donskey says repeated washes of a cloth mask in a washing machine could degrade the fabric, which would make it less effective. Handwashing is also an option for washing face masks. 

He says the temperature they used for the study was 100 degrees Celsius, or 212 degrees Farenheit. 

Donskey and other researchers also looked at how long the steam cycle needs to be for effectiveness. 

A 10-second steam treatment may be enough to disinfect face masks between use, according to the study from Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. 

He was surprised that it only took ten seconds to see results, though the longer processes he says are still more effective. 

Donskey compared the process to hand sanitizer. It is helpful to quickly kill germs for health care workers who are rushed between patients, but it's not a subsitute for more rigorous disinfecting methods. 

Donskey says health care workers are the primary audience for his research, but people at home could potentially use steam heat. Washing cloth masks in soap and water also kills the virus.

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