Supercritical CO2 sterilization: An effective treatment to reprocess FFP3 face masks and to reduce waste during COVID-19 pandemic

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Jun 20;826:154089. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154089. Epub 2022 Feb 23.


The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic unveiled an unprecedented scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) available in sanitary premises and for the population worldwide. This situation fostered the development of new strategies to reuse PPE that would ensure sterility and, simultaneously, preserve the filtering properties of the materials. In addition, the reuse of PPEs by reprocessing could reduce the environmental impact of the massive single-use and disposal of these materials. Conventional sterilization techniques such as steam or dry heat, ethylene oxide, and gamma irradiation may alter the functional properties of the PPEs and/or leave toxic residues. Supercritical CO2 (scCO2)-based sterilization is herein proposed as a safe, sustainable, and rapid sterilization method for contaminated face masks while preserving their performance. The functional (bacterial filtration efficiency, breathability, splash resistance, straps elasticity) properties of the processed FFP3 face masks were evaluated after 1 and 10 cycles of sterilization. Log-6 sterilization reduction levels were obtained for face masks contaminated with Bacillus pumilus endospores at mild operating conditions (CO2 at 39 °C and 100 bar for 30 min) and with low contents of H2O2 (150 ppm). Physicochemical properties of the FFP3 face masks remained unchanged after reprocessing and differences in efficacy were not observed neither in the filtration tests, following UNE-EN 14683, nor in the integrity of FFP3 filtration after the sterilization process. The herein presented method based on scCO2 technology is the first reported protocol achieving the reprocessing of FFP3 masks up to 10 cycles while preserving their functional properties.

Keywords: Bacillus pumilus; Face mask; PPE reprocessing; Sterilization; Supercritical carbon dioxide.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Masks*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sterilization / methods


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Hydrogen Peroxide