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Department of Biological Sciences; Department of Chemical Engineering


N95 respirator face masks serve as effective physical barriers against airborne virus transmission, especially in a hospital setting. However, conventional filtration materials, such as nonwoven polypropylene fibers, have no inherent virucidal activity, and thus, the risk of surface contamination increases with wear time. The ability of face masks to protect against infection can be likely improved by incorporating components that deactivate viruses on contact. We present a facile method for covalently attaching antiviral quaternary ammonium polymers to the fiber surfaces of nonwoven polypropylene fabrics that are commonly used as filtration materials in N95 respirators via ultraviolet (UV)-initiated grafting of biocidal agents. Here, C-quaternized benzophenone is simultaneously polymerized and grafted onto melt-blown or spunbond polypropylene fabric using 254 nm UV light. This grafting method generated ultrathin polymer coatings which imparted a permanent cationic charge without grossly changing fiber morphology or air resistance across the filter. For melt-blown polypropylene, which comprises the active filtration layer of N95 respirator masks, filtration efficiency was negatively impacted from 72.5 to 51.3% for uncoated and coated single-ply samples, respectively. Similarly, directly applying the antiviral polymer to full N95 masks decreased the filtration efficiency from 90.4 to 79.8%. This effect was due to the exposure of melt-blown polypropylene to organic solvents used in the coating process. However, N95-level filtration efficiency could be achieved by wearing coated spunbond polypropylene over an N95 mask or by fabricating N95 masks with coated spunbond as the exterior layer. Coated materials demonstrated broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity against several lipid-enveloped viruses, as well as and bacteria. For example, a 4.3-log reduction in infectious MHV-A59 virus and a 3.3-log reduction in infectious SuHV-1 virus after contact with coated filters were observed, although the level of viral deactivation varied significantly depending on the virus strain and protocol for assaying infectivity.

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© 2022 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

ACS applied materials & interfaces



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