- 1 A NIOSH-approved N95
- 2 An FDA-authorized KN95
- 3 The same mask, with headbands
- 4 A surgical mask with easy-to-knot ear loops
- 5 A stiffer surgical mask best for layering
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These masks are constructed from nonwoven layers that are better than cloth at filtering the tiniest, potentially infectious particles floating in the air. But separating the good options from the bad can be tough. I’ve spent months scrolling through scores of masks online, poring over documents from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the FDA, and puzzling over little certification slips half-written in Chinese (a childhood’s worth of Saturday morning Chinese school has not helped). I’ve done this as part of my reporting for Wirecutter’s guide to cloth face masks but also for personal reasons: My husband (a teacher) and child attend school in person, and we have older parents we’re trying to keep safe as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Frustratingly, the now-ubiquitous presence of these disposable masks doesn’t make finding the right one any easier, particularly when it comes to KN95 masks (the Chinese equivalent of N95 masks). Yes, there’s the counterfeit issue. But also, KN95 and surgical-style masks don’t always fit very well. As Loretta Fernandez, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, explained, “There’s nothing magical about a KN95. The edges still need to form a good seal against the face for it to be protective.” The truth is, any medical-style mask—no matter how superior the filtration—doesn’t do much better than a quality cloth mask if it allows most of the air you’re breathing to go around the mask rather than through it. Proper fit is critical.
This guide is an ongoing project: Not only will we continue to track down legitimate respirators and masks, and reliable retailers that sell them, but we’ll also be testing the masks for fit, comfort, and (for those who want to layer up) compatibility with our cloth-mask picks. So far, we’ve consulted five scientists, five manufacturers, three importers, two retailers, an e-commerce expert, and two government agencies, and we’ve also tried on 16 respirators and other disposable masks ourselves. See what might work for you, adjust the fit as best you can, and chances are, you’ll end up with a mask you can feel confident wearing for the times you need it most.
Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator
A NIOSH-approved N95
This odd-looking, oddly comfortable N95 is a NIOSH-approved respirator meant for non-medical use. Its headbands are soft yet help form a tight seal, and its long nose-bridge wire reduces glasses fogging.
(pack of 50)
Despite its weird duckbill shape, the Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator, manufactured in the US by a long-established company, is the real deal—and because it’s conceived as a non-medical mask, anyone is eligible to buy it. Its malleable material and soft headbands form a good seal for most faces, and this mask’s generous cut allows more air to filter in for easier breathing.
Powecom KN95 Respirator Mask (ear loops)
This KN95 respirator mask, with comfortable ear loops, has been authorized by the FDA for emergency use. You can knot its rounded elastics if necessary.
(pack of 10)
Powecom KN95 Respirator Mask (headbands)
The same mask, with headbands
If you prefer headbands to ear loops, you may find that this FDA-authorized KN95 respirator mask provides a better fit.
(pack of 10)
The Powecom KN95 design—made by an established mask maker in China and sold by a reputable US-based company—comes in both ear-loop and headband versions, so you have a greater chance of finding something that feels right. Its rounded (instead of flat) fasteners are easier than most to knot, should you need to adjust the fit.
Honeywell Level 3 Surgical Mask with Ear Loops
A surgical mask with easy-to-knot ear loops
The super-soft ear loops on this surgical mask make for easy knotting so you can adjust the fit as needed.
(pack of 50)
May be out of stock
The Honeywell Level 3 Surgical Mask with Ear Loops is a true surgical mask, cleared by the FDA. Its exceptionally soft ear loops (made from “knitted” nylon and spandex) knot easily. Given a snug fit, this mask meets the highest level (98%) of filtration efficiency for 0.1-micron-diameter particles among surgical masks.
BYD Care Single-Use Surgical Mask
A stiffer surgical mask best for layering
Though its fasteners aren’t the easiest to knot, this surgical mask fits comfortably underneath most cloth face masks for easy layering.
(pack of 50)
The BYD Care Single-Use Surgical Mask is the most substantial-feeling surgical mask we’ve tried. We like the reinforced ear loops and the fact that it’s FDA-cleared and has demonstrated 98% filtration efficiency for 0.1-micron-diameter particles. Because of its difficult-to-fold borders, it’s best used under a well-fitting cloth mask to achieve a leak-free fit.
Source: The NY Times
Keyword: Where to Buy N95s, KN95s, and Surgical-Style Masks You Can Trust