What’s the Difference Between N95 Masks and KN95 Masks
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They have similar-looking names but are held to entirely different standards. Here’s what to know before purchasing a mask online

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The rise in coronavirus cases across the country has led to a rise in companies making face masks, as government officials continue to promote the wearing of face coverings as an effective way to prevent the spread of Covid-19. While there are a number of different options available, from lightweight face masks for running to more stylish picks, a new report says the most effective face masks are a protective N95 mask.

Also sometimes referred to as N95 respirators, these masks are not to be confused with KN95 masks, which have a similar name, but are held to entirely different standards. Here’s what you need to know.

N95 Masks vs. KN95 Masks: Similarities and Differences

Both N95 masks and KN95 masks are made from multiple layers of synthetic material (typically a polypropylene plastic polymer) and are designed to be worn over the mouth and nose. Straps behind your ear help to hold the mask in place. Both masks must filter out and capture 95 percent of tiny 0.3 micron particles in the air (hence the “95” in the names).
“N95 masks offer protection against particles as small as 0.3 microns in size, and while the coronavirus itself is around 0.1 microns in size, it’s usually attached to something larger, such as droplets that are generated by everyday activities like breathing and talking,” explains Shaz Amin, founder of WellBefore (formerly Honest PPE Supply), which sells masks, face shields, wipes and sanitizers on its website. “Due to the multiple layers of non-woven fabric and melt blown fabric in the N95 masks, the strong material makeup of these masks are great at preventing airborne particles from entering through your mouth and nose.”

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But how are N95 masks different from KN95 masks? The main difference lies in how the masks are certified. “In general,” says Sean Kelly, founder of New Jersey-based PPE of America, “N95 is the U.S. standard, and the KN95 is the China standard.” Because of this, only N95 masks are approved for health-care use in the United States, even though KN95 masks have many of the same protective properties.

N95 masks must pass a rigorous inspection and certification process from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the CDC. Companies making KN95 masks, meanwhile, can seek approval from the FDA, through an emergency authorization for a foreign certification which meets the 95 percent filtration requirement. The FDA says the manufacturer of KN95 masks must also provide documentation that the masks and materials used are authentic.

According to Kelly, whose company was among those tapped by Connecticut lawmakers to provide personal protective equipment to frontline workers in the state, certification of KN95 masks include a requirement on “fit testing,” which tests the air inside and outside of the mask, as well as how the mask fits around your face. The N95 masks do not have these requirements to meet their standard. Still, he says, “N95 mask requirements are a bit more stringent regarding the pressure drop in the mask during breathing in, which makes the N95 more breathable than most KN95 masks. The N95 masks have similar requirements for exhaling. These requirements,” Kelly says, “make the N95 mask a bit more advanced with the overall breathability for users.”

Keep in mind, the certifications mentioned above only refer to the country in which the standards and regulations were created, not where the masks are made. Most N95 masks are still made in China. Similarly, the CDC has authorized the use of KN95 masks as a suitable alternative to N95 masks for its response to Covid-19.

Are N95 Masks Reusable?

N95 masks are not meant to be reused. “To my shock and dismay, some people tell me they wear the same mask for days or even a week without changing,” Kelly says. “That is not only stupid, but extremely dangerous, especially if their mask was not decontaminated by one of the newer decontamination machines.”

Unlike cloth face coverings, which can be machine-washed and worn dozens of times, the best N95 masks are only effective when worn once or twice. You should discard the masks immediately afterward; they are not meant to be washed and reused.

Are KN95 Masks Reusable?

KN95 masks, meantime, are meant for one-time use as well, though Amin says some studies are coming out that show that some KN95 masks could be effectively reused.

“What was more interesting,” he adds, “is that they said when they reused the mask after spraying it with ethanol, air drying it and then vacuum drying it, it showed effective filtration after that as well.”

Fake N95 Masks vs. Real N95 Masks

There are some precautionary steps you can take to determine if the masks you are buying are counterfeit. Kelly suggests six things to look out for, which may suggest a “fake” or uncertified N95 mask:

1.The NIOSH approval stamp is either missing or spelled wrong on the face of the mask.
2.The mask has ear loops instead of headbands (headbands are used for a tighter fit).
3.The TC approval number is not listed on the face of the mask or headband.
4.The company claims approval for use by children.
5.There is a presence of decorative add-ons.
6.The manufacturing lot number is not visible on the face of the mask.

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