As COVID-19 continues to infect millions of people worldwide, finding the best mask (or two) to help stop the spread is more important now than ever before. While any mask is still better than no mask at all, KN95 masks have become one of the most popular types of disposable masks available to non-health-care workers. Whereas N95 masks are the NIOSH-approved American standard for high quality air filtration, KN95s are the Chinese-made equivalent. Last spring, when the U.S. was experiencing a severe shortage of N95 masks, the FDA approved a handful of KN95s for emergency use. N95s are still in short supply and should be reserved for medical professionals who need them most, but good quality KN95s, including the ones approved by the FDA, are widely available to the general public.
When we spoke to Dr. Ravina Kullar, an infectious-disease specialist, epidemiologist, and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, about the difference between KF94 and KN95 masks, she said that KN95 masks “are made of the same synthetic material as N95 masks and [also] filter out and capture 95 percent of particles in the air.”
The certification processes for KN95 and N95 masks are “nearly identical,” says Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University who co-authored a study on the efficiency of various mask materials. The problem is there are a lot of counterfeit KN95s, and other than the FDA list, there is little information to help tell the difference. But before you get too worried, Cui, who Strategist writer Karen Adelson spoke to about the best disposable masks you can buy online, says his lab has found that even counterfeit KN95 masks are pretty good at blocking COVID droplets and can have a filtration efficiency of 75 to 80 percent. To help you find the best ones for you, we pulled together a list of doctor-approved and Strategist-tested KN95 masks that you can buy right now.
We recommended these KN95 masks in our roundup of disposable masks because they are included on the FDA’s list of approved emergency PPE and are readily available. They are soft on the skin and create a tight seal all the way around, from the bridge of the nose to the underside of the chin. We gave one to Jacob Cohen, a second-grade teacher in Brooklyn who has tried a lot of KN95s since the fall. Cohen says they fit more snugly than the other KN95s he has tried and don’t move when he is talking.
This particular KN95 from N95 Mask Co. comes recommended by Stacy De-Lin, a family medicine specialist in New York City. “The company’s business model is such that it is able to provide large amounts to medical organizations as well as provide smaller amounts to the public,” she says. The brand also sells a wide variety of other medical-grade disposable masks.
Strategist senior editor Anthony Rotunno bought these KN95 masks for his husband who commutes to an office every day. “As calls to double-mask began to really get loud, my husband texted me to order a pack of KF94 masks while he was listening to an episode of the What a Day podcast featuring Dr. Ashish Jha. Strategist hadn’t yet published our explainer on the differences between KF94 and KN95 masks, so not being as familiar with the KF94 ones he texted a link to, I clicked around on Amazon and wound up on these KN95s,” he says. “They come in white and black — I, like far cooler people before me, went with black.” Rotunno tested one that his husband had used to get a sense of the fit compared to the cloth masks he has worn up until now. His review: “I’d say the fit is snug; the only area I thought the (already used) mask wasn’t so tight against my face was under my chin, which I think some slight adjustments to the straps would easily fix.”
We haven’t tested these KN95 masks. But, like the masks from Powecom, they are on the FDA list of emergency PPE. They also have nearly 4,000 positive reviews on Amazon, including a five-star review from a nurse who says, “I’ve been using these masks throughout the pandemic. They are comfortable and soft and I’m very confident recommending them.”
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