You’ve probably seen Richard Juan’s viral video demonstration of why you should never spray alcohol on your face mask.
Based on its 88,900 views as of this writing, many people can relate and have been tagging their family and friends to stop spritzing their masks with alcohol in an attempt to disinfect them.
To explain why spraying alcohol on your mask is not advisable, let’s look at the materials used in a surgical mask: A good-quality one has a white absorbent side plus middle and outer colored layers that are water-repellent. This prevents water droplets and fluids from being absorbed into the mask from the outside. Likewise, the absorbent layer facing you will prevent YOUR bodily fluids from escaping the mask. If you spray alcohol on a waterproof coating, it dissolves the barrier and lets water pass through. A chemistry teacher at Taipei’s Kainan Vocational High School explained, “Because of the need to block liquid droplets, the masks have a layer of waterproof coating on the surface. After alcohol is added, as alcohol is both lipophilic (will combine with/dissolve in lipids or fats) and hydrophilic (attracted to water), it will dissolve part of this coating. If this coating is dissolved, water will easily pass through it.”
Just as a refresher, a surgical mask is different from an N95 mask. According to the Philippine Red Cross’ infographic posted during the Taal volcano eruption, an N95 mask filters out at least 95% of large and small airborne particles, while a surgical mask won’t do the same thing. Surgical masks “protect the wearer from sprays, splashes, and large-particle droplets; it also prevents the spread of potentially infectious respiratory secretions from the wearer to others (like if you have cough).
The World Health Organization reminds everyone in this video that surgical masks cannot protect you from COVID-19 when used alone. Proper hand hygiene, mask removal, and disposal are also important, along with other preventive measures.
Make sure you always wear your mask with the colored side facing outwards and with the thin bendable wire pressed against your nose bridge. Wearing it the wrong way will reduce its effectiveness.
And if you feel the need to spray your mask with alcohol in the first place, it isn’t a clean one to begin with. Ditch it!