It’s a year old, and we’re all sporting face masks, which in last February most of us have never expected. Health professionals also propose that two masks be used at once. As more COVID-19 variations emerge, it’s more necessary than ever to wear a high-quality face mask.

Masks Types and usage

We already know that all face masks aren’t equal, and there’s a difference between medical-grade respirators and cloth face coverings. Now as the pandemic drags on, professional-grade masks are gaining attention again, especially because they can filter out particles better than a cloth mask. This guide compares N95 masks, KN95 masks, and KF94 masks — three popular and
protective types of masks to help you make smart mask-buying and mask-wearing decisions.

N95 masks

  • Percentage of aerosol particulates filtered:95%
  • NIOSH-approved:Yes

N95 masks have been popular since the early stages of the pandemic in 2020. These masks give an extremely tight fit thanks to elastic headbands and an adjustable metal seal over the nose, which keeps the mask close to your skin.

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N95 masks

N95 masks can filter 95 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns in size. (Although SARS-CoV-2 virus particles are about 0.1 microns in size by themselves, remember that virus particles are usually attached to something bigger, like the respiratory droplets generated when talking).

N95s undergo the thorough inspection and certification by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and only after being certified are they approved as medical-grade masks. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association calls N95s the “mainstay of protection against airborne pathogens.”

Unfortunately, for almost a year now, these masks have been in limited supply and they are part of the personal safety resources health care professionals use when handling COVID-19 patients. The Disease Control and Prevention Centers thus proposes that N95s should not be limited to the public, but should instead be for health professionals.

KN95 masks

  • Percentage of aerosol particulates filtered:95%
  • NIOSH-approved:No
  • Who should wear one: Anyone can wear these masks in low- to moderate-risk environments, such as going to the grocery store or an outdoor gathering. 

The Chinese version of N95 masks is considered KN95 masks. They have a tentlike shape that generates between the nose and the cloth a little space of air that makes them enticing to many people: they feel smoother to breathe into, less obstructive and stifling.

The Chinese government regulates a KN95 respirator; like an N95, at least 95 percent of small airborne particles are expected to be filtered out. Nevertheless, research has shown that the real findings of many of the KN95s for sale are counterfeit. While some counterfeits may indeed filter out at least 95% of particles, some are catastrophically bad.

If you have a KN95, just remember that it is likely that you may not get about as much security as you expect. Even KN95 masks that do not follow NIOSH filtration effectiveness requirements are generally still more safe than basic cotton, nylon or other non-medical fabric surgical masks, and cloth face masks. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page

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KN95 masks

KF94 masks

  • Percentage of aerosol particulates filtered:94%
  • NIOSH-approved:No
  • Who should wear one:Anyone can wear these masks in low- to moderate-risk environments, such as going to the grocery store or an outdoor gathering.

The popularity of KF94 masks nowadays is rising. “KF” stands for “Korean filter” and 94 refers to the effectiveness of the filtration masks. These masks filter 94 percent of the particles down to 0.3 microns in size, according to the requirements of the South Korean government. To build a close fit, they feature ear hooks, an adjustable nose bridge, and side flaps.

Researchers considered KF94 masks to be almost as effective at filtering SARS-CoV-2 as N95 masks. KF94s seem to be more readily available than the N95, less expensive. KF94 is actually intended for public use. In Korea they are often worn by ordinary citizens to filter out dust or pollution.

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For Amazon and other major online retailers, fake face masks have become an issue. Manufacturers claim to market N95s, KN95s or KF94s, when the masks they sell are not necessarily kept to the same specifications as masks tested by the US, Chinese or Korean governments. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page

Signs that a respirator may be counterfeit:

  • No markings at all on the filtering facepiece respirator
  • No approval (TC) number on filtering facepiece respirator or headband
  • No NIOSH markings
  • NIOSH spelled incorrectly
  • Presence of decorative fabric or other decorative add-ons (e.g., sequins)
  • Claims for approval for children (NIOSH does not approve any type of respiratory protection for children)
  • Filtering facepiece respirator has ear loops instead of headbands
Sample of a generic filtering facepiece respirator with appropriate markings.

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