Covid-19: Is a surgical mask still effective after ten washes?

A “Good news for the wallet and the planet”. The UFC-Que Choisir consumer association does not skimp on superlatives to present the results of its latest experiment.

Purpose of sound “Express test” : two surgical masks bought in supermarkets and a mask “Of comfort”, without official marking, acquired in a drugstore. Or three disposable protections, normally promised in the trash after four hours.

“Very good filtration capacities”

UFC-Que Choisir shows, however, with supporting data, that these masks would retain “Very good filtration capacities” and would remain “Sufficiently breathable” after ten washing cycles (at 60 ° C) – drying (in the dryer) – ironing (at “Soft iron”).

→ EXPLANATION. Covid-19: Should the mask be worn inside the home?

The association concludes: “In the end, even after having undergone several washing cycles, they are well above the minimum requirements for fabric masks carrying the official Afnor / DGA filtration guarantee, which we used as a reference. ” Cherry on the cake: “Fasteners have remained intact” and the user, by doing so, acknowledges “Beneficial” for the environment, the plastics of the masks are not recyclable.

A “methodology” in question

Scientists questioned about the UFC-Que Choisir test consider it plausible, even probable, that masks washed-dried-ironed in this way retain satisfactory levels of filtration and breathability. But all are skeptical about the “Protocol”, not detailed in the publication and applied to only three references.

“From a scientific point of view, this article lacks details in the methodology, regrets Philippe Carenco, hygienist at the Hyères hospital center. Washing with other parts? What laundry? What type of drying? There are no elements available to ensure the experiment under the same conditions. “

→ PRACTICAL. Covid-19: how do you know which mask to buy?

So many unknowns who invite Véronique Merle, another hygienist and professor of public health in Rouen, to the “Caution” : “There is a lack of information on how the tests were carried out to judge whether the results are solid. “

Doubts about the economic and ecological interest

Beyond the limits of “Method” exposed in the article, the doctors wonder about the interest even of washing a surgical mask.

Drastically reduce the family budget devoted to protection against Covid-19? “You might as well opt directly for a fabric mask, reusable and much stronger, slice Véronique Merle. This study concludes that performance is maintained but, in real life, these are very fragile masks that we will store, fold, twist. And therefore damage. “

There is also doubt about the ecological aim: even when consumed in smaller quantities, the main component of the surgical mask, polypropylene, takes several hundred years to degrade. Philippe Carenco sums up: “Why waste time washing single-use masks when you can find reusable fabric of good quality? “

Without questioning its promising results, the hygienist fears a hasty reading of the study: “The message, as often, will be simplified. Many will only remember the wash. However, drying is essential to reduce the microbial load. “ Even if it means washing it, you might as well have a filtering, breathable and clean mask.


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