Filter quality of electret masks in filtering 14.6-594 nm aerosol particles: Effects of five decontamination methods

PLoS One. 2017 Oct 12;12(10):e0186217. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186217. eCollection 2017.


This study investigates the effects of five decontamination methods on the filter quality (qf) of three commercially available electret masks-N95, Gauze and Spunlace nonwoven masks. Newly developed evaluation methods, the overall filter quality (qf,o) and the qf ratio were applied to evaluate the effectiveness of decontamination methods for respirators. A scanning mobility particle sizer is utilized to measure the concentration of polydispersed particles with diameter 14.6-594 nm. The penetration of particles and pressure drop (Δp) through the mask are used to determine qf and qf,o. Experimental results reveal that the most penetrating particle size (MPS) for the pre-decontaminated N95, Gauze and Spunlace masks were 118 nm, 461 nm and 279 nm, respectively, and the respective penetration rates were 2.6%, 23.2% and 70.0%. The Δp through the pretreated N95 masks was 9.2 mm H2O at the breathing flow rate of heavy-duty workers, exceeding the Δp values obtained through Gauze and Spunlace masks. Decontamination increased the sizes of the most penetrating particles, changing the qf values of all of the masks: qf fell as particle size increased because the penetration increased. Bleach increased the Δp of N95, but destroyed the Gauze mask. However, the use of an autoclave reduces the Δp values of both the N95 and the Gauze mask. Neither the rice cooker nor ethanol altered the Δp of the Gauze mask. Chemical decontamination methods reduced the qf,o values for the three electret masks. The value of qf,o for PM0.1 exceeded that for PM0.1-0.6, because particles smaller than 100 nm had lower penetration, resulting in a better qf for a given pressure drop. The values of qf,o, particularly for PM0.1, reveal that for the tested treatments and masks, physical decontamination methods are less destructive to the filter than chemical methods. Nevertheless, when purchasing new or reusing FFRs, penetration should be regarded as the priority.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Decontamination / methods*
  • Filtration
  • Inhalation Exposure / prevention & control
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Respiratory Protective Devices / standards*


  • Particulate Matter

Grant support

This work was supported by grants from the Institute of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health, Ministry of Labor, and from the Ministry of Science and Technology, grant number 96-2221-E-040-003-MY3, Republic of China, Taiwan. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.