Insights into the evaporation characteristics of saliva droplets and aerosols: Levitation experiments and numerical modeling

J Aerosol Sci. 2021 May;154:105760. doi: 10.1016/j.jaerosci.2021.105760. Epub 2021 Jan 22.


Understanding the transmission phenomena of SARS-CoV-2 by virus-laden droplets and aerosols is of paramount importance for controlling the current COVID-19 pandemic. Detailed information about the lifetime and kinematics of airborne droplets of different size is relevant in order to evaluate hygiene measures like wearing masks but also social distancing and ventilation concepts for indoor environments. However, the evaporation process of expiratory droplets and aerosols is not fully understood. Consequently, the main objective of this study is to present evaporation characteristics of saliva droplets. An acoustic levitator is utilized in conjunction with microscopic imaging for recording the temporal evolution of the evaporation of saliva droplets under well-defined ambient conditions. Following the evaporation of the water content, a saliva droplet reaches a final size, which remains stable in the timescale of hours. By investigating numerous droplets of different size, it was found that the final droplet diameter correlates well to 20 % of the initial diameter. This correlation is independent of the ambient conditions for a temperature range from 20 °C to 29 °C and a relative humidity from 6 % to up to 65 %. The experimentally obtained evaporation characteristics are implemented into a numerical model, which is based on one-dimensional droplet kinematics and a rapid mixing evaporation model. By taking into account the evaporation-falling curve as presented by Wells, the significance of the experimental results for predicting the lifetime of saliva droplets and aerosols is demonstrated. The numerical predictions may be used to determine the impact of the droplet size and the ambient conditions on the transmission risks of infectious diseases like COVID-19.

Keywords: Acoustic levitation; Airborne transmission; COVID-19; Droplet; Evaporation; Saliva.