N95 and KN95 masks are currently the best masks on the market considering their efficiency against harmful particles like the COVID-19.
However, these masks are generally reserved for health care workers and first responders due to the scarce availability of proper masks. Nevertheless, the general public also wants to ensure proper protection for themselves and their families, so people are wearing these masks as well, alongside surgical and cloth masks.
But, how do N95 and KN95 masks compare? Both are seemingly the same, except that N95 masks are American-authorized and tested, while KN95 is standardized by the Chinese government.
If you want to know more about these masks and how they compare, then you’re at the right place. In the following paragraphs we’ll see how these masks perform, side by side!
N95 Vs. KN95 Mask: 12 Things to Know Before Buying
1. Testing And Approval
N95 masks are currently tested and approved by NIOSH and FDA. Other health organizations and agencies, like the CDC, also partake in the testing and approval process.
The masks are generally tested for their respiratory protection, fluid resistance, filtration efficiency, biocompatibility, and flammability. N95 masks are also regulated by the FDA.
They are characterized as class II medical devices (under, 21 CFR 878.4040). Both FDA and NIOSH undertake regulatory collaboration when it comes to respiratory masks like the N95.
KN95 masks are currently tested and regulated by the Chinese government, under the regulations GB2626-2006, GB2626-2019, and GB19083-2010.
These masks are created to resemble the American N95 masks, so they generally go through similar testings and regulations.
The masks are tested for their respiratory protection and filtration efficiency, just like the N95 masks. KN95 is globally available and used.
However, because not every Chinese manufacturer is checked and approved, the FDA has issued an emergency use authorization letter for the Chinese KN95 masks.
2. Purpose And Use
The purpose of an N95 mask is to protect its wearer from airborne particles, aerosol transmission, as well as from specific diseases and infections caused by these particles. The particles usually include bacteria, viruses, liquid droplets carrying these particles, microorganisms, etc. N95 masks are also used for protection against allergens and pollutions.
Just like the N95 masks, the KN95 masks are used to provide respiratory protection against airborne particles and aerosol transmission of viruses and bacteria. These masks are also effective against fine pollution particles, dust, smog, and allergens. That is why they’re generally used in Asia’s most polluted cities as effective protection.
3. Design Of The Masks
N95 masks are designed to have a tight seal around the face, especially the nose and mouth area. The masks are made from synthetic polymer fibers. These are plastic fibers, which are usually used to make synthetic and polyester clothing items.
The masks are made by melt blowing. The straps of the N95 masks are made from natural rubber, the staples are made from steel and the nose foam in the mask is made from PUR foam. A standard N95 mask features headbands, and when fitted properly, creates a tight seal around the face to prevent any particles from entering your airway system.
KN95 masks are made from nonwoven fabric; hot air cotton and melt-blown fabric. The masks are generally multi-layered (they usually feature 5 layers, as recommended by the WHO and FDA, while some low-quality versions have 4 layers). The nonwoven fabric in the masks is waterproof and hydrophobic, as well as skin-friendly because of the hypoallergenic materials. The layers further ensure better filtration efficiency. When it comes to the appearance of the masks, they usually have a 3D, foldable design. They have an adjustable nose bridge clip and earloops to ensure a tighter fit.
4. Intended Wear
N95 masks are currently recommended to be worn by the health care staff and first responders. These masks are not recommended for the general public, because they’re definitely more needed in the medical community and people who work directly with COVID-19 patients. However, if members of the general public come across an N95 mask, they are more than recommended to wear it, in case they don’t have another type of mask at disposal.
just like N95 masks, KN95 masks are recommended for health care providers and first responders. Because of their filtering efficiency, these masks are great for medical settings where COVID-19 patients are being treated. So, the general public should leave the N95 and KN95 masks for the medical community and doctors/nurses working with COVID-19 patients.
studies and current certification show that N95 masks have more or less 95% filtering efficiency against airborne and non-oil particles (usually these masks have approximately 97% filtering efficiency, but not every N95 mask). The N95 masks show that when exposed to oil particles cutting fluids, glycerine, and lubricants, the efficiency rate drops.
So far, the masks have shown efficiency in the health care environment against airborne particles and aerosol virus transmission. Also, N95 masks were used during avian influenza, SARS outbreak, Ebola outbreak, and pandemic influenza. However, we are yet to see how effective the N95 masks are when it comes to COVID-19.
just like the N95 masks, KN95 masks have more or less 95% filtration efficiency. This makes them suitable enough against bacteria, viruses, and other airborne particles. The thing with KN95 masks though is, when they’re sterilized, their efficiency rate drops by 50% pot-sterilization. Moreover, we are still waiting for more studies about KN95 masks in cases of coronavirus and their efficiency against this type of virus.
6. COVID-19 Application
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO recommends N95 masks as a preventive measure. However, the WHO also recommends N95 masks only be used by health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic since they’re directly exposed to infected people. The WHO and the CDC recommended that the general public wear 3-layers cloth masks, while respiratory and surgical masks stay at disposal for medical workers.
So far, KN95 masks have shown effective as a protective measure against COVID-19 transmission. This has been generally the case among health care workers, which are supposed to use these masks primarily. However, there are currently NOT enough studies to support these claims, since they’re largely anecdotal. But, the WHO ensures that KN95 masks are generally good protective devices against COVID-19, as stated in a document regarding guidance and available evidence on KN95 mask use.
7. Reuse And Storage
Masks are generally recommended to be stored in clean and breathable areas, paper bags, or clean containers. There are even specialized mask storage boxes for surgical, N95, and KN95 masks. When it comes to reuse and extended use, N95 masks can be reused up to 5 days, while being properly stored between uses. This is recommended by the CDC and the WHO because of the scarce availability of these masks.
When it comes to storage and reuse period, the same recommendations apply to KN95 masks as well. KN95 masks should be stored in clean and breathable areas, away from other adults and children. KN95 masks can also be reused up to 5 days, or several times in one day (considering the masks are stored properly between uses).
Know More: How To Store And Reuse Masks?
There are NO official decontamination methods when it comes to N95 masks. Some studies show that the decontamination of N95 masks can be done using UV light or ethanols sprays. There are even mentions of vaporized hydrogen peroxide and exposure to heat, as sanitizing methods.
However, none of these methods have been officially tested and approved. Some people tend to sanitize their N95 masks with alcohol and bleach solution, but they’re simply lowering the efficiency of their masks between 50%, 70%, and 90%. So, we don’t recommend this method either!
The same decontamination discussion regarding N95 masks applies to KN95 masks as well.
9. Counterfeit Masks
An N95 mask is counterfeit when;
- It has earloops instead of headbands.
- It doesn’t have a NIOSH-approved label or the approval abbreviation sign.
- It doesn’t have the NIOSH facepiece markings or approval numbers (NIOSH-approved TC numbers).
- It has the NIOSH label misspelled (usually NOISH).
- It has the FDA label on the packaging or the box; FDA doesn’t allow the label display on any respirator packaging.
- It features decorations and add-ons (like sequins).
- It is approved for use by children.
For KN95, we’ve already included in KN95 Mask: 12 Things You Need to Know Before Buying
10. Downsides And Harmful Effects
Both N95 and KN95 masks cause similar harmful effects and downsides;
- Breathing difficulties in people with chronic respiratory and cardiac conditions,
- Oxygen shortage causing fatigue, weakness, and even fainting in some cases (especially in areas where the temperature is rather high),
- Increased heart rate, alongside increased stress levels and breathing difficulties,
- Thermal stress and increased skin temperature,
- Nervousness, irritability, and general discomfort,
- Skin irritation, redness, itching, and breakout.
11. Availability And Purchase
Because of the scare availability of N95 and KN95 masks, we have to emphasize that it is important you leave these masks to the health care providers and first responders. However, if you do come across N95 and KN95 masks for personal use, it is important you check whether the masks are counterfeit or not.
What you can do is check your mask (and its manufacturer) at the FDA list of authorized importers and manufacturers of respiratory masks. You can also check the database for Establishment Registration and Device Listing. Here, you can check whether the mask manufacturer is legit and FDA-cleared.
Update: Stock is not a problem right now for KN95, you can get it from companies like wellbefore.com if needs
Because N95 and KN95 masks should be reserved for health care providers and first responders, we should have in mind some alternatives. Instead of N95 and KN95 masks, we recommend the following;
- Cloth masks – these masks are cheap and widely available. They can even be made at home, using some DIY tips and tricks. Cloth masks are even recommended as a proper alternative for respiratory masks by the WHO.
- Surgical masks – even though they should also be reserved for health care workers, surgical masks can be used by the general public as an alternative to respiratory masks. This only applies to cases where no other masks are simply not available and you require proper protection.