N95 vs KN95 masks: Which masks are best to buy?

·7 min read

The pandemic rages on, so we’re all in the market to buy N95s or KN95s. Vaccinations continue to roll out, but thanks to the combination of not enough people having yet taken the vaccine, and the rise of new strains of COVID-19, masks are still a necessary part of life. Even if you’re vaccinated, experts argue that to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and limit the spread of other potentially harmful viruses, it’s a good idea to continue wearing a mask.

Of course, that’s not to mention the fact that masks are still a requirement in plenty of places. Airlines, for example, still mandate the use of a mask for travelers, while plenty of other indoor locations ask patrons to wear masks unless they’re eating or drinking. There are plenty of mask options out there — but according to experts, the N95 mask continues to be one of the best options.

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The N95 mask, sometimes referred to as the N95 respirator, is not the same thing as a KN95 mask. Yes, the names are confusing — but there are some notable differences between the two types of masks. Both, thankfully, are effective against COVID-19 — even the Delta variant. But if you haven’t yet bought a new shipment of masks, and are curious about the differences, read on.

How does an N95 mask work? And how does that differ from how a KN95 mask works? Here’s everything you need to know.

Buying N95 vs KN95 masks: Similarities

There are quite a few similarities between N95 and KN95 masks. Both of the two are made from layers of synthetic material, and are, of course, designed to be worn over your mouth and nose. Typically, the synthetic material is a polypropylene plastic polymer, but not always. They’re both required to filter out 95% of 0.3-micron particles. That’s where the “95” in their name comes from.

Kimberly-Clark N95 Mask - Credit: Kimberly-Clark/Amazon
Kimberly-Clark N95 Mask - Credit: Kimberly-Clark/Amazon

Kimberly-Clark/Amazon

Differences

But what are the differences between N95 and KN95 masks? Well, the main difference actually has more to do with how the masks are certified than the masks themselves. N95 masks are certified based on the U.S. standard, while KN95 masks are certified based on the Chinese standard. This basically means that only N95 masks are certified for healthcare workers in the U.S., despite the fact that KN95 masks offer a similar level of protection.

The certification process? N95 masks have to pass an inspection process from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the CDC. U.S. companies that want to build KN95 masks, on the other hand, can get approval from the FDA, which works through an emergency authorization for a foreign certification.

It’s important to note that while the N95 standard is U.S.-based and the KN95 standard is China-based, plenty of companies make masks in both regions, for both standards. That’s to say, U.S. companies can build KN95-certified masks, while Chinese companies can build N95-certified masks. Neither of the two standards is really superior to the other.

There is one minor difference between the two standards. The N95 standard is a little stricter when it comes to the pressure when users breathe in and out. That can make N95 masks slightly more breathable.

Generally speaking, there’s one more difference between N95 and KN95 masks. N95 masks usually use headbands to keep a mask on the wearer’s head. KN95 masks, however, could use ear loops instead.

What do N95 and KN95 masks protect against?

As mentioned, N95 and KN95 masks are required to filter 95% of 0.3-micron particles. That makes them far better than most cloth covering and surgical masks.

0.3 microns is incredibly small — and far smaller than the majority of droplets and particles that are exhaled when we sneeze, cough, and talk. The coronavirus itself is around 0.1 microns — however, the virus is almost always attached to a droplet of some kind when it’s spread through coughing and sneezing. That means that despite the small size, N95 and KN95 masks are still very protective against the coronavirus.

One of the biggest advantages to N95 and KN95 masks over standard cloth masks is that they snugly around the face, without any large cracks or holes that can let in droplets. This helps make them much more effective.

Are N95 masks reusable?

While N95 masks are much better at filtering and offer a more snug fit than cloth masks, unfortunately, they are not reusable. N95 masks are built for one-time use, not for days or weeks’ worth of use. There are decontamination machines for N95 masks, however, most people will just want to use a new mask each time they need one.

Powecom KN95 Face Mask - Credit: Powecom/Amazon
Powecom KN95 Face Mask - Credit: Powecom/Amazon

Powecom/Amazon

As the FDA suggests, to discard an N95 mask, place it in a plastic bag, and then immediately in the trash. Then, immediately wash your hands.

Are KN95 masks reusable?

Like N95 masks, KN95 masks are built for single use. That means that they should be discarded after a single use — not used for multiple days or weeks.

How to spot fake N95 and KN95 masks

It can sometimes be tricky to spot fake or counterfeit N95 and KN95 masks. There are a few things, however, to look out for when buying an N95 mask. Here are some signs that an N95 mask is counterfeit. These don’t necessarily apply to KN95 masks.

  • The mask has ear loops instead of headbands

  • The NIOSH approval stamp isn’t present, or it’s incorrect or misspelled

  • There’s no approval number

  • The company claims that the mask is approved for use by children

  • The design of the mask has been altered

  • The manufacturer’s lot number isn’t shown on the mask

It can be a little more difficult to spot fake KN95 masks in the U.S. That said, a few tricks could help ensure that you’re buying the real deal. It’s important to do your research and ensure that you’re buying from a reputable store. Ideally, the manufacturer will supply lab results and videos proving those results.

What size mask should you get?

We all know that N95 and KN95 masks come in different sizes. You need to make sure you get the right one for your face. Typically, N95 and KN95 masks come in a universal size and then you can adjust from there. The masks have straps that are resizable, so you can get a more personalized fit. But even if your mask comes in a universal fit, how tight should you make it?

According to a study published by PLOS, a non-profit science and medical publisher for researchers, it compared the fits of N95, KN95, surgical, and cloth masks. It breaks down the importance of fit checking and figuring out just how to get the most out of your mask. As you may have expected, here were some of the findings.

N95 respirators offered higher degrees of protection than the other categories of masks tested; however, it should be noted that most N95 respirators failed to fit the participants adequately. Fit check responses had poor correlation with quantitative fit factor scores. KN95, surgical, and fabric masks achieved low fit factor scores, with little protective difference recorded between respiratory protection options. In addition, small facial differences were observed to have a significant impact on quantitative fit.

Your mask fitting you properly is the most effective way to keep yourself safer. After you’ve handled your own mask, it’s smart to make sure others with you have theirs properly fitted too. You may think that sounds like what they tell you on an airplane, but it isn’t a bad way to go about it.

Where to buy N95 masks online

There are a number of real N95 mask manufacturers that you can find online. You can search and search on Google, but then you have to go through the test of whether or not it is a legitimate mask. Perhaps the easiest place to buy them, however, is on Amazon. Not all listings are of actual N95 masks on Amazon, but we’ve found a few reputable stores that you can buy from below.

Where to buy KN95 masks online

As mentioned, it can be a little tricky to find reputable KN95 masks. We, however, have done the research so that you don’t have to. You want to find the best KN95 masks for sale. Here are a few solid KN95 mask options to buy from.

See the original version of this article on BGR.com