At this point, you’ve probably seen all types of face masks floating around during the pandemic. Some look slightly safer and more virus-proof than your typical colorful cotton masks with candy hearts and heavy-metal skulls.
Well, that’s because they are.
Respirator-type masks are likely either N95 face masks or KN95 face masks depending on a few key factors. Both types of nano face mask are used by medical professionals and industrial workers. And, both have been proven to be effective in protecting us from contracting or spreading airborne viruses like COVID-19.
We can first look at how N95 and KN95 face masks are similar (besides the fact that they look almost identical).
For one, both KN95 and N95 face masks can filter out the same tiny (.03 micron) particles at 95% PFE. The acronym stands for “Particle Filtration Efficiency” which is the measurement of risk-factor that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) uses to assess the efficacy of face masks against the coronavirus.
Also, both masks are tested using the inhalation and exhalation flow rate of human breath, which is measured in salt particles at 85 L/minute for each. Woosaa. Did we throw too much science at you?
In other words, both respirator filters are equally effective in protecting against the virus.
N95 is the US Standard
Now for the slight differences.
So, the N95 is the gold standard of face masks. To meet NIOSH standards, there are slightly stricter requirements for pressure drop during inhaling and exhaling. Also, the N95 face masks do not need to be fit tested to meet US standards and are required to be more breathable.
Apparently, NIOSH is a little more worried about masks cutting off the oxygen supply to its wearers. Fortunately, suffocating from wearing a face mask is incredibly low on the list of risk factors here.
KN95 is the Chinese Standard
Chinese standards work a bit differently. The KN95 masks are fit tested with less than or equal to 8% leakage. These tests are conducted while people are exercising to accurately assess fluid leakage.
The main difference here–and the reason these face masks do not meet US standards–is that KN95s do not repel fluids at the same rate.
Now we know that both N95s and KN95s have the same filter efficacy rate of 0.3 microns. However, N95s repel fluids and have some other very slight variations that meet US standards for clinical settings.
Also, because of their stricter requirements, N95s are almost double the price of KN95s and are critical for medical workers and people who are at higher risk of contracting the virus.
So, for those of us who are at a lower risk walking around with masks on, save the N95s for healthcare workers and get yourself a KN95!