Filtering nonwovens produced with melt-blown technology are one of the most basic materials used in the construction of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) against harmful aerosols, including bio- and nanoaerosols. The improvement of their filtering properties can be achieved by the development of quasi-permanent electric charge on the fibres. Usually corona discharge method is utilized for this purpose. In the presented study, it was assumed that the low-temperature plasma treatment could be applied as an alternative method for the manufacturing of conventional electret nonwovens for the RPE construction. Low temperature plasma treatment of polypropylene nonwovens was carried out with various process gases (argon, nitrogen, oxygen or air) in a wide range of process parameters (gas flow velocity, time of treatment and power supplied to the reactor electrodes). After the modification, nonwovens were evaluated in terms of filtration efficiency of paraffin oil mist. The stability of the modification results was tested after 12 months of storage and after conditioning at elevated temperature and relative humidity conditions. Moreover, scanning electron microscopy and ATR-IR spectroscopy were used to assess changes in surface topography and chemical composition of the fibres. The modification of melt-blown nonwovens with nitrogen, oxygen and air plasma did not result in a satisfactory improvement of the filtration efficiency. In case of argon plasma treatment, up to 82% increase of filtration efficiency of paraffin oil mist was observed in relation to untreated samples. This effect was stable after 12 months of storage in normal conditions and after thermal conditioning in (70 ± 3)°C for 24 h. The use of low-temperature plasma treatment was proven to be a promising improvement direction of filtering properties of nonwovens used for the protection of respiratory tract against harmful aerosols.
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