'That’s a fire hazard': Ontario fire marshal warns public to not sterilize face masks in the microwave

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario’s fire marshal John Peg is warning people in the province to not use microwaves as a way to sterilize face masks for re-use.

"Heating a face mask in a microwave, in an effort to decontaminate it, is a potential fire risk and should never be done," Pegg said in a statement.

The fire marshal outlines that cloth masks can overheat and catch on fire, and many disposable masks have metal components, like nose wire or staples holding the straps, which can cause sparks or a fire if heated in a microwave.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer of health, answered a question about this practice in a press conference on Tuesday. She said reusable masks should be laundered in hot water.

“Cloth masks, every time after you use it you should wash it, launder it, in hot water,” Dr. Yaffe said “Definitely don’t put it in the microwave. That’s a fire hazard.”

In an email to Yahoo Canada, the office of the provincial fire marshal confirmed they are not aware of any fires in Ontario related to people putting heating masks in microwaves but they are aware of these circumstances in the U.S. and U.K.

Officials are also recommending that people give significant consideration to fire safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, as more time is being spent indoors.

Pegg notes that there have been 51 fire fatalities between Jan. 1 and May 4 in Ontario, a 65 per cent increase from the same time last year. A total of 17 people have died in the province in March alone.

The fire marshal recommends that people adhere to the following protocols to reduce the risk of fires in their home:

  • Always stay in the kitchen when you are cooking - unattended cooking is a leading cause of home fires

  • Keep a close eye on anyone drinking alcohol while attempting to cook or smoke

  • Encourage smokers to smoke outside the home and garage and thoroughly extinguish all smoking materials in water or sand

  • Always blow out candles before leaving the room or going to bed

  • Avoid overloading electrical outlets and running electrical cords under rugs or furniture which can damage the cords and cause a fire

  • Ensure items that can burn are at least one metre away from space heaters

  • Test your alarms by pressing the test button - only working smoke alarms give you the early warning required to safely escape a fire in your home

  • Practice your home fire escape plan and make sure everyone knows two ways out of each room, if possible

  • Keep all exits clear of obstructions that might hinder a safe escape