On the market today, there are a wide variety of masks to wear to help protect you from getting, or spreading, COVID-19. However, there is some confusion as to what masks to use. You can even wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth, so why buy a mask? And what exactly is the difference between masks labeled N95 and KN95?
We will have a more in-depth look at the differences between N95 and KN95 masks and how they stand out from regular masks, but here are the main points you need to know:
- Unlike N95 and KN95 masks, traditional masks don’t fit tightly over your nose and mouth; therefore, there’s lots of air leakage
- N95 and KN95 masks are tested and approved by governing bodies, while regular masks are not
- N95 and KN95 protect both the wearer and those around them by filtering the air
- N95 and KN95 are both tested to ensure they filter at least 95% of all particles measuring 0.3 microns diagonally
- The Coronavirus is smaller than 0.3 microns but generally attaches itself to larger particles
- Healthcare practitioners wear the N95 and KN95 respirators as the U.S. government has approved them for that purpose
- N95 masks have stricter regulations for air pressure, meaning they are easier to breathe through
- All KN95 masks undergo tests for fitting purposes before being certified to ensure air leakage is minimal—N95 masks do not
- NIOSH certifies N95 masks in the U.S.
- The Chinese government certifies KN95 masks
- The FDA has approved a number of KN95 masks for the U.S. market; the list can be found on their website
- It’s important to avoid counterfeit masks
- KN95 and N95 respirators are not suited for bearded men
Masks vs. Scarves
Scarves, bandanas, and other fabrics you can wrap around your face are readily available (you probably have some in your wardrobe), so why not use them? They’re reusable, easy to wash, and affordable, so they seem like the ideal option.
You should not use scarves as protective gear because they are not effective—neither in preventing the spread of COVID nor in preventing you from getting sick.
The reason they aren’t effective, is because they don’t altogether stop you from omitting particles into the air while speaking. Nor from inhaling particles emitted by others. However, bandanas offer a better level of protection than wearing no mask at all. Neck gaiters, on the other hand, can make things worse. This is because they split the droplets you exhale into smaller ones, thereby keeping them in the air for longer (heavier droplets sink faster).
Regular Masks vs. N95 and KN95 Masks
Regular masks come in many shapes and sizes, and some are more effective than others. It depends on what materials they’re made from and how effectively they cover your nose and mouth.
N95 and KN95 are different as they are made to healthcare standards and are actually respirators, not masks (and more about that later).
The most important thing to consider is the testing—N95 and KN95 have been given their names because they catch 95%+ of particles 0.3 microns in diameter (and larger). In theory, Wearing them means that you do not breathe in, or out, particles of 0.3 microns or larger.
COVID is only 0.1 micron, but it’s usually attached to droplets created by breathing.
In short, N95 and KN95 are the best masks on the market.
The Difference Between N95 and KN95 Masks
The difference between N95 and KN95 masks is who set the standard. The N95 masks are regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S., while the Chinese government regulates the KN95 masks.
That’s not to say that the KN95 masks available in the U.S. aren’t regulated in the U.S. as well, though. Importers can seek approval from the FDA, which will check their certification from overseas. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control), of which NIOSH forms part, has stated that the KN95 masks are an alternative to the N95 masks when there is a shortage of N95 masks.
KN95 masks can be produced in the U.S. (though, as of now, they haven’t been). And N95 masks can be produced in China (and many are).
The name has nothing to do with the country of origin but with the standards set out that it has to comply with, as well as who hands out the certification.
KN95 and N95 Are Respirators
As mentioned previously, neither N95 nor KN95 are masks—they are respirators.
What does that mean?
It means that they protect the wearer from breathing in particles in the air. A regular mask won’t fit perfectly around your nose and mouth and, hence, won’t protect you from breathing in the virus. It will help to an extent, but how much is debatable.
Respirators, on the other hand, are made to fit perfectly around your nose and mouth and therefore protect you from breathing in most, if not all, particles 0.3 microns and larger.
Masks do tend to protect people close to the wearer. This is because a large percentage of droplets are prevented from entering the air. Those that do enter the air also tend to do so at less speed as the mask slows down the airflow. Therefore, if you keep a certain distance, those around you won’t breathe in the particles you breathe out.
For example, if you aren’t wearing a mask and sneeze, chances are you’ll spread the virus far and wide if you’re infected. If you’re wearing a mask, this won’t happen.
In short, masks will help protect those around you to an extent, especially if you keep your distance. Though, Respirators are the safest option on the market because they filter the air you breathe in and the air you breathe out.
If you’re carrying the virus and touch a regular mask, then touch a surface, you can spread the virus. Likewise, if you breathe on your hands before putting on a respirator and then touch a surface, you can spread the virus. Also, if you have the virus, your clothes are likely to have the virus on them.
That means that to stay safe, it’s essential to disinfect the surfaces people touch, as well as keep your distance.
The Minute Differences Between KN95 and N95 Respirators
While KN95 and N95 respirators are generally speaking equally safe, they have some differences.
There are two main differences.
The KN95s are fit tested. Meaning the masks are tested on humans to ensure there is no more than 8% of leakage of air. While some organizations test the N95 respirators on workers before using them, they are not fit tested before being released on the market. Meaning the NIOSH does not have fit testing as one of their requirements.
The N95s, on the other hand, have stricter regulations for the pressure drop while inhaling and exhaling. Meaning that the airflow is sometimes less restricted than in a KN95 mask. Which in layman’s terms translates to N95 masks being easier to breathe through, though the difference is minimal.
Also, KN95 sometimes come with earloops, while N95 uses
Remember that both the KN95 and the N95 have the name they do as they protect you from 95%+ of airborne particles 0.3 microns and larger in diameter. That means that from that perspective, they’re equally safe.
What KN95 and N95 Masks Should You Buy?
If you’re in the U.S. and buying a mask, look for ones that have been approved by the authorities.
When it comes to the KN95 respirators, you want to buy the ones that have been approved by the FDA.
If you are buying an N95 mask, then make sure it’s approved by the NIOSH.
Note that there are many counterfeit masks on the market, so be sure to look up the company that made your mask. Plus, look for regulatory stamps on the packaging. Also, make sure that those stamps don’t contain any inconsistency, such as NIOSH being misspelled.
Remember, buying a counterfeit respirator will not keep you safe.
The N95 sometimes come with valves. This makes it easier for you to breathe. However, it can create an airstream that makes it slightly more dangerous for those around you. If you want to offer the ultimate protection for those close to you, choose a mask without a valve. Still, remember that N95 respirators approved by NIOSH have been tested for 95%+ efficiency, including ones with a valve, so the difference is minimal.