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How to shop for the best KN95 face masks, according to experts

We tried KN95 masks that aligned with what medical experts and the CDC recommend looking for, from fit to comfort.
MIddle age man wearing in EU obligatory FFP2/KN95/N95/ protective mask
KN95 masks are manufactured to offer 95 percent protection from particulate matter, like the N95 mask. But they’re harder to shop for — here’s what to know.Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty Images

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The U.S. has officially crossed the two-year mark since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, and recently, the CDC announced new guidance around when Americans should consider wearing masks. The agency’s updated recommendations — which rely on Covid-19 Community Levels — currently put a majority of the nation’s counties at low or medium risk, meaning masks are no longer necessary for most people, according to CDC metrics. Many states have also completely eliminated mask mandates.

Regardless, you may still choose to wear a mask or keep a supply on hand at home. And earlier this year, the CDC told Americans for the first time that respirators — among them N95 and KN95 face masks — offer more protection than cloth masks, stopping short of directly recommending one mask over another.

SKIP AHEAD Defining KN95 face masks, how to buy KN95s and some highly rated options, how to wear them and why

“While all masks and respirators provide some level of protection,” the CDC noted, “properly fitted respirators provide the highest level of protection.” (Most people use “mask” and “respirator” interchangeably, but when the CDC and medical professionals say “respirator,” they specifically mean specialized, fitted face coverings like N95s, KN95s and KF94s.)

In its guide to masks and respirators, the CDC further prioritized respirators above masks — with emphasis on a proper fit — and specified they’re better than cloth products.

  1. Highest level of protection: Well-fitting respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), including N95s
  2. Less protection than NIOSH-approved respirators: Well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s
  3. Less protection than non-NIOSH respirators and surgical masks: Layered, finely woven products
  4. Least protection (but still better than not wearing a mask at all): Loosely woven cloth products

“[W]ear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently," the CDC said in its revised recommendation. Medical experts have also been encouraging the public to make respirators their first choice when they wear a mask.

To help guide your shopping for KN95s, we’ve consulted medical experts about who should use KN95 respirators, as well as when to wear them and how to source and shop for them. We also highlight products based on expert guidance and alignment with the latest from the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC — we also tried every one of the masks we recommend to get a feel for them.

Highly rated KN95 face masks

When it comes to KN95 masks, experts recommend masks that filter out at least 95 percent of particulates, are constructed with ear loops and comprise multiple layers. Each of the following masks list features that align with expert guidance and our research: Five or more layers, 95-percent filtration (or above) and ear loops.

Experts have told us that transparency regarding face masks is a must-have in any brand you shop. This is especially relevant for KN95 masks, which aren’t regulated the way N95 masks are. Despite not being regulated, there are ways for these brands and their manufacturers to increase their trustworthiness, like FDA registration or inclusion in the FDA’s now-defunct emergency use authorization (EUA), which it passed in 2020 to help medical workers choose KN95 masks. Learn more about KN95 masks, FDA registration and the EUA.

  1. All of the masks below come from manufacturers registered with the FDA — while this has nothing to do with regulating mask quality, it increases accountability for the brand selling it, experts told us.
  2. Some of the masks below appeared on the FDA’s EUA — we note which ones.
  3. For all of the masks below, we’ve obtained associated lab tests regarding filtration. For masks that appeared on the FDA’s EUA, we got documentation from the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory. Other brands sent us documentation directly.

Finally, we bought and tried on multiple face masks and only recommend ones whose packaging, features and fit align with what experts told us to expect.

Powecom KN95 Face Mask

Powecom’s KN95 masks were featured on the FDA’s EUA list. They are available in black and white and come in a pack of 10. The masks feature an adjustable nose piece, and their earloops are latex-free, according to the brand.

WWDOLL KN95 Face Mask

WWDOLL’s KN95 masks were featured on the FDA’s EUA list. They come in a pack of 25 and are available in multiple colors. The masks also feature an adjustable nose bridge.

Hotodeal KN95 Face Mask

These KN95 masks were featured on the FDA’s EUA list. They come in a pack of 40. They’re built with an adjustable nose clip, and come in white or black.

Evolvetogether KN95 Face Masks

Evolvetogether’s KN95 masks come in a pack of five and are individually wrapped in what the company has said are biodegradable pouches. Each has six layers and an adjustable nose bridge. The KN95 masks come in multiple colors, and you can also purchase a color variety set, which comes with 15 KN95 masks.

WellBefore KN95 Face Mask

WellBefore offers KN95 masks in multiple colors and allows a choice among standard ear loops, adjustable ear loops and adjustable head straps. The masks have an adjustable nose bridge, and you can purchase as few as 10 masks, which come individually wrapped.

What is a KN95 mask?

A KN95 face mask is a type of disposable respirator. It filters 95 percent of particulate matter, just like the N95 mask, explained Dr. Nina Shapiro, professor of head and neck surgery at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of an N95 respirator in the U.S. A Chinese governing body like the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health sets the standard for KN95 masks in China. Since they’re designed to meet a Chinese standard, KN95s are not regulated in the U.S. From April 2020 to June 2021, the FDA had a temporary emergency use authorization that allowed U.S. health workers to use KN95s on the job. It later ended the EUA because NIOSH-approved respirators were no longer in short supply.

How to buy KN95 masks

The CDC offers a list of factors to consider when purchasing an international respirator like a KN95, as well as a list of tips to help you spot masks that may not meet the necessary standards, but no specific guidance.

It’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to be sure you’re really buying a KN95 mask just by looking at it, said Dr. Jeremy Friese, a former Mayo Clinic physician and the president of the payer market at Olive, an Ohio-based company that integrates artificial intelligence into health care.

Experts we interviewed recommend you review your masks after receiving them and before wearing them and offered tips.

A KN95 mask should not be damaged in any way

Packaging should never include false claims or logos from the FDA. The FDA does not permit their logo to appear on packaging of any sort

KN95 masks shouldn’t cost more than $3 apiece, according to the CDC

Additionally, Anne Miller, executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit that helps people source personal protective equipment and medical supplies, suggested shoppers review lab testing documents that clearly illustrate how well a mask acts as a filter. Some brands publish these online, while others may send them to you if you ask.

Another factor to consider while shopping for KN95 masks is FDA registration. To register with the FDA, manufacturers pay a fee and submit certain criteria about the operation. Though experts told us this is better to have than not, FDA registration has no bearing on the quality of the face mask itself and does not denote approval of the mask or its manufacturer by the FDA.

Miller also previously told us that the list of KN95 models the FDA specifically approved in its April 2020 emergency use authorization is one of the best resources to use when sourcing the respirators, even after the FDA stopped updating the list in 2021.

Are KN95 masks reusable?

KN95 masks are disposable face coverings, so you can’t wash and reuse them like you can a cloth mask. However, you don’t have to toss a KN95 mask after a single use. A KN95 mask can be worn multiple times If you remove and store it properly. Shapiro said KN95s should be stored in a paper bag between uses. If you notice that a mask is wet or dirty, or if it’s damaged — for example, if any part of it is worn away, or if the straps are broken or stretched — you should throw it out, she said.

Shapiro said she wouldn’t wear a KN95 more than three or four times maximum, especially if doing so for multiple hours. Additionally, if you knowingly come into close contact with someone infected with Covid, or you yourself have Covid while wearing it, you should throw the mask out after a single use.

How to wear a KN95 mask

Regardless of the type of mask you wear, it won’t protect you or the people around you unless you wear it correctly. The CDC recommends making sure it completely covers your mouth and nose and fits tightly against your face to prevent gaps around the sides of the mask, nose and chin.

All masks fit differently, and features like adjustable ear loops and an adjustable nose bridge help you improve the fit of your mask, as do mask fitters or braces, according to the CDC. Using a fitter or brace is especially a good idea for people with facial hair, which can make it difficult to achieve a tight fit.

The CDC said that “it is most important to wear a well-fitted mask or respirator correctly that is comfortable for you and that provides good protection.”

When comparing different types of masks, “properly fitted respirators provide the highest level of protection,” including N95s and KN95s, according to the CDC. The agency said disposable surgical masks and reusable cloth masks offer less protection.

The CDC has said you should not double-mask while wearing a KN95 mask. Friese added that a KN95 mask generally offers more protection than double-masking anyway, as long as it fits well.

You should not wear international respirators with exhalation valves or vents, either, according to the CDC — this guidance applies to all masks.

Why wear a face mask? Do face masks protect others against Covid or just the wearers?

To recommend when Americans should wear face masks, the CDC determines an area’s Covid-19 Community Level on a scale of low, medium or high. To do so, it factors how many Covid-related hospital beds are in use, hospital admissions and the total number of new Covid cases in that area. Each Covid-19 Community Level corresponds to a masking recommendation — suggested precautions increase alongside the level. To determine your area’s Covid-19 Community Level, use the CDC's Covid-19 county check.

Currently, everyone — vaccinated or not — is required to wear a mask on public transportation or inside transportation hubs anywhere in the U.S., though you can remove your mask in open-air areas, like the outside deck of a ferry.

Experts have repeatedly stressed that masks help reduce the risk of viral transmission. One 2021 CDC study found that, between two properly masked or double-masked people, the risk of one giving the other a virus was cut by over 95 percent. Masking up also protects other people, as demonstrated in numerous studies like these gathered by the CDC.

CORRECTION (Aug. 26, 2021, 5:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly included some face mask manufacturers on the FDA’s EUA list. Manufacturers for masks from Evolvetogether, Hope Health and Well Before are not on the list, but are only registered with the FDA. We’ve kept them on the list because they meet guidance from medical experts.

UPDATE (Aug. 26, 2021, 5:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article included the VIDA KN95 face mask. We’ve removed it from the list because the brand is shipping M95 face masks for some orders of KN95 face masks given "global shortages," according to its site.

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