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Hold the Rice! An Instant Pot Can Give Your COVID-19 Mask a Hospital-Grade Decontamination

June 08, 2020

Close to a quarter of adult Americans own an Instant Pot, the do-it-all kitchen appliance that's a pressure cooker, slow cooker, crockpot, rice cooker, steamer, food warmer and your personal saucier. Don't stop there. More than one study has also shown the surprising hospital-grade abilities of rice cookers -- that would include you, Instant Pot owners -- to decontaminate masks during COVID-19. Earlier this spring, researchers at Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found a short steam cycle in a rice cooker decontaminated cloth masks. The steam proved more effective than either dry heat or ultraviolet light. The researchers noted that, during the COVID-19 surge, some hospitals using cloth masks as personal protective equipment had tried hydrogen peroxide vapor and ultraviolet light. "However," their report said, "sending used respirators to a central processing facility for hydrogen peroxide vapor treatment is likely to be labor-intensive and costly and ultraviolet light is suboptimal for decontamination of soft surfaces." The study found that a rice cooker's steam was almost as effective at decontamination as concentrated hydrogen peroxide. In their tests, researchers set the rice cooker at 212 degrees for a 10-second steam treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends the public use cloth masks when social distancing is not possible, recommends soap and water to clean cloth masks, whether in a washing machine or by hand. But repeated cleaning in a washing machine could degrade the material and render it less protective. In one of the earliest rice-cooker tests, Chung Shan Medical University's Department of Occupational Safety and Health in Taichung, Taiwan, concluded that dry steaming N95 masks for three minutes in a rice cooker killed up to 99.7 percent of germs. This method of cleaning reduced filter quality by only 10 percent after five dry steamings, the lowest degradation in tests that also included sterilization using a 70 percent alcohol solution, bleach and high-pressure. (Soaking masks in alcohol or bleach for 10 minutes reduced filter quality by up to 80 percent.) Even before COVID-19, the Instant Pot drew comparisons to an autoclave, the expensive sterilizing equipment for medical and scientific use, when a senior biology student at Dakota State University spent six months testing it against other pressure cookers for autoclave-like performance after receiving one of the multicookers for Christmas in 2017. Vaille Swenson's findings, published in the Public Library of Science, determined the Instant Pot was the only pressure cooker that could kill geobacillus spore, the same heat-resistant bacteria used to test commercial autoclaves. Need to see your doctor? New Patient? For more information about Hartford HealthCare virtual health visits, click here. Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor. Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily. Questions? Call our 24-hour hotline (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600).  Get text alerts by texting 31996 with COVID19 in the message field.