Another perspective on avoiding fake N95 and KN95 masks

What to Know About KN95 Face Masks

Masks made to China’s standards for respiratory protection aim for similar benefits as N95 masks. But there are key differences. 

Respirator masks marked KN95 that the government says don’t meet standards.PHOTO: U.S. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY

By Austen Hufford Aug. 3, 2020 9:16 am ET

Masks made to China’s standards for respiratory protection aim for similar benefits as N95 masks. But there are key differences.

Q: What’s the difference between KN95 and N95 face masks?

A: Face masks known as N95 and KN95 respirators are the common names for regulatory standards used to test their efficacy at filtering out at least 95% of very small particles. N95 is the standard used in the U.S., while KN95 refers to a standard in China. 

On paper they are very similar. Both filter out most small particles and are similarly breathable. But some states, hospitals and other users in the U.S. have reported quality concerns about KN95 masks they ordered in recent months as protection against the new coronavirus. Tests on KN95 masks have shown that many fail to meet basic filtrationstandards. 

KN95 masks also typically use loops around the ears, while N95 masks use elastic bands stretched around the head. Those headbands provide a more secure fit that can make a mask more effective at blocking the virus, public health officials said.


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Q: Why should you wear a mask?

A: Public health officials say any type of mask, even basic cloth face coverings, are a simple way to slow or stop the spread of the coronavirus. Most masks are designed to prevent the wearer from spreading disease to others.

N95 and KN95 masks are designed to protect the wearer. However, due to quality concerns around some KN95 masks, some state agencies have started using them interchangeably with simpler masks that are meant mainly to stop the virus from spreading. Public health officials have asked that N95 masks, which remain in short supply, be reserved for health-care workers

N95 is the U.S. standard to test the efficacy of masks at filtering out at least 95% of very small particles.PHOTO: ANGUS MORDANT/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Q: Who made your mask?

A: The name of the manufacturer is typically on the packaging of the mask, a slip of paper included with the mask, or printed on the mask itself. You can also look for an “owner operator” number on the packaging. The brand-name on the mask can be different from its actual manufacturer.

Mask manufacturers are listed in a searchable database on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. More than 3,500 Chinese manufacturers have registered this year to sell KN95s in the U.S. Being in the database doesn’t mean the mask is approved for safe use.

Q: How do I tell if my KN95 mask is good quality?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the main U.S. regulator of respiratory protection products, has tested more than 200 brands of KN95 masks. States including Oklahomaand Massachusetts have been posting results of masks they tested. 

The FDA has also created a list of mask models that have been granted emergency approval for medical use. The list is updated regularly. In May, the agency removed dozens of manufacturers from the list due to quality concerns. 

Q: Can I test it myself?

Getting your mask professionally tested by an accredited laboratory can be costly and many labs are experiencing delays. Large organizations or government agencies can submit a request to Niosh to test a foreign mask brand that hasn’t already been tested by the agency. 

Wearers can also try to perform a seal-check to see if their mask fits properly. Some buyers have come up with other testing methods. Leo Friedman, chief executive of iPromo, said his company, which is buying KN95 masks in China for sale to customers in the U.S., typically performs two tests before purchasing. He puts on a mask and tries to blow out a lighter. If the mask is good quality, he says, he can’t blow enough air through the filter to extinguish the flame. He also pours water inside the mask to see if any drips through. “You can do both in 20 seconds,” he said.


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