Face masks have become a daily reality for many people, with no sign of becoming less crucial in the foreseeable future. Protecting yourself with a high-quality face mask is important, but with the range of products out there, from surgical-grade to thin fabric fashion masks, it can be confusing trying to choose the best one.
Professional-grade masks have the ability to filter out particles like germs and bacteria and have been consistently popular, particularly for indoor use. The most well-known of these — N95 masks and KN95 masks — are largely similar in terms of their filtering efficiency. Both masks are able to trap 95% of 0.3 micron particles or larger, both are required to be efficient at filtering out salt particles and both are tested at a flow rate of 85 liters per minute.
The N95 mask is the most popular of the seven types of particulate filtering facepiece respirators (face masks) approved by the U.S. government. The "N" means that it isn't resistant to oil-based particles (something you'd need if you worked at a chemical plant, for example), and the 95 denotes that it filters a minimum of 95% of airborne particles. To check that your mask is legitimate before purchase, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health provides a living catalog of NIOSH-approved particulate filtering facepiece respirators.
Kimberly-Clark Professional N95 Pouch Respirator: available at Amazon
These N95 masks provide a comfortable and efficient product with innovative layering.
8511 N95 Sanding and Fiberglass Valved Respirator: available at Home Depot This 3M option is another top contender from a reputable company that features a cool flow valve to reduce heat buildup and a breathable design.
BYD Care Single-Use Surgical Mask: available at Amazon
For a medical-grade, less industrial-looking mask, you might consider this BYD choice. It’s both substantial and economical, with a 98% filtration efficiency for 0.1 particles.
In theory, rigorous testing standards should make KN95s a perfect substitute for N95s.
However, because KN95 masks aren't NIOSH-approved, they’re considered less reliable in the U.S.
Powecom KN95 Face Mask: available at Amazon
These masks are $13 for a pack of ten, come from a reputable company in China that has made face masks since 2009 and are approved by the FDA for emergency use. The National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory confirmed that this mask tested at 98% or greater efficiency.
Powecom KN95 Headband-Style Face Mask: available at Amazon
Powecom masks are also available in a headband style if you find ear loops uncomfortable. The two-strap headband design gives a tighter fit and more secure seal than the earloop version.
The bottom line is that N95 masks have slightly stronger breathability standards and tend to fit better than KN95s. There’s also much less of a counterfeit problem with N95s. Whichever mask you choose, however, the two most important features to look for to ensure filtering efficacy are the number and quality of filtering layers and a proper fit.
Bryony Gilbey is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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