N95, KN95 or KF94? How to Find the Right Covid Mask

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The fast-spread of the infectious Omicron variant has prompted galore radical to effort to upgrade to a higher-quality aesculapian mask. But that’s easier said than done.

Anyone who has shopped for a disguise online oregon successful stores has discovered a dizzying array successful a assortment of shapes, sizes and colors. Knowing which disguise to prime and making definite it’s not a counterfeit requires the sleuthing skills of a forensic investigator. And erstwhile you take one, it’s inactive a gamble; galore radical observe they’ve ordered a disguise that’s excessively large oregon excessively tiny for their look oregon conscionable doesn’t acceptable right.

“No 1 has made this easy, that’s for sure,” said Bill Taubner, president of Bona Fide Masks, the exclusive distributor successful the United States for some Powecom and Harley KN95 masks, which are from China. “A batch of radical extremity up doing a batch of research.”

Unlike cloth masks, high-quality aesculapian masks — called N95s, KN95s and KF94s — are made with layers of high-tech filtering worldly that trap astatine slightest 94 to 95 percent of the astir risky particles. Under a microscope, the filters look similar dense forests of tangled fibers that seizure adjacent the hardest-to-trap particles that tin bounce astir and flight the fibers of cloth masks. High-grade aesculapian masks besides person an electrostatically charged filter that helps pull and trap particles.

Early successful the pandemic, high-quality aesculapian masks were successful abbreviated supply. Now the occupation is determination are truthful galore antithetic masks for sale, it’s pugnacious to cognize which ones person been tested and certified by authorities agencies, and which are counterfeit. We interviewed disguise manufacturers, importers, nationalist wellness officials and autarkic researchers for proposal connected choosing a aesculapian mask. Here’s a guide.

Masks travel successful antithetic shapes and sizes. You’ll find “cup” benignant masks, “duck bill” masks and “flat-fold” masks. The champion disguise is the 1 that fits snugly against your look and is comfortable. Start by ordering successful tiny quantities and effort antithetic styles to find the champion 1 for your face. Many masks are described arsenic “one size fits most.” But immoderate travel successful tiny oregon larger sizes. “You’re not getting the afloat payment of a respirator if you enactment it connected and it’s not forming a seal to your face,” said Nicole Vars McCullough, vice president for idiosyncratic information astatine the 3M Company, a planetary disguise manufacturer.

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The WellBefore N95 mask.
Credit...Sarah Kobos/Wirecutter

The N95 respirator disguise is regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost each N95 masks usage caput straps — 2 elastic bands that wrapper down the head. If a disguise claiming to beryllium an N95 has receptor loops, it’s astir apt a fake. The C.D.C. has a guide for spotting fake N95s.

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Credit...Sarah Kobos/Wirecutter

The KN95 is akin to the N95, but it has receptor loops and is made to conscionable Chinese standards for aesculapian masks. Some radical similar them for comfort, and due to the fact that they travel successful smaller sizes. While you tin find morganatic KN95 masks, the proviso concatenation is riddled with counterfeits and there’s small regularisation oregon oversight of the product. One survey recovered that 60 percent of the proviso of KN95s successful the United States are counterfeit. Keep speechmaking for ways to spot them.

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Credit...Sarah Kobos/Wirecutter

The KF94 is simply a high-quality disguise that folds level and is made successful Korea. It is designed specifically for the user market. The KF stands for “Korean filter,” and the 94 means it filters 94 percent of particles. The masks are heavy regulated successful Korea, which lowers the hazard of counterfeits. However, immoderate fake masks made successful China whitethorn beryllium labeled KF94, truthful shoppers inactive request to bash their homework.

The disguise marketplace is peculiarly tricky for parents trying to find masks for children. No N95 disguise has been approved for children, truthful immoderate disguise that claims to beryllium an N95 for kids is simply a fake. However, N95s bash travel successful S/M sizes that mightiness enactment for immoderate older children. KN95 and KF94 masks person styles made for children, truthful erstwhile you find one, you request to spell done the aforesaid vetting process that you would usage for an big mask, utilizing the links below.

Big retailers similar Home Depot and Lowes typically enactment straight with manufacturers approved by NIOSH oregon their distributors, truthful if you find an N95 disguise successful a large retail store you tin beryllium assured you’re getting the existent thing. It’s a bully thought to cheque shaper websites to spot wherever they merchantability their products and who their authorized distributors are, Dr. McCullough said. 3M has a dedicated spot connected its website to assistance consumers spot fake masks.

Finding a reliable disguise connected Amazon is trickier due to the fact that you’ll spot morganatic masks mixed successful with counterfeits, though the differences won’t alway beryllium obvious. If you indispensable usage Amazon, effort to store straight successful the on-site stores of disguise makers similar 3M oregon Kimberly-Clark. (You tin usually find a nexus to a maker’s online store close beneath a merchandise name.)

If you’re buying a KF94 connected Amazon, look intimately astatine the packaging to marque definite it’s made successful Korea and includes the required labeling (see beneath for much details). Aaron Collins, an technologist who routinely tests masks and who has gained a YouTube following arsenic “Mask Nerd,” recommends buying KF94s from Korean quality merchandise importers similar Be Healthy oregon KMact. Once you larn the names of a fewer KF94 manufacturers, you tin effort to find their websites to larn wherever they are sold. For instance, Happy Life lists its 5 U.S. distributors connected its location page.

You tin sometimes find N95 and KN95 masks for merchantability straight connected the website of a disguise maker, like Demetech and Armbrust USA. You tin besides look for companies that are exclusive distributors of KN95 masks, similar Bona Fide Masks. The nonprofit tract Project N95 is besides a reliable spot to shop.

Legitimate N95s and KN95s are required to person circumstantial substance stamped connected the beforehand of the mask. Although you whitethorn find 1 successful a amusive color, masks that are printed with fancy designs oregon don’t person substance stamped connected them are astir apt fake.

Your N95 should beryllium stamped with “NIOSH,” arsenic good arsenic the institution name, the exemplary and batch numbers, and thing called a “TC approval” number, which tin beryllium utilized to look up the disguise connected a database of approved ones. The C.D.C. has created an infographic showing you the printing to look for connected your N95.

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Credit...Charlie Rubin for The New York Times

A morganatic KN95 should besides beryllium stamped with text, including the sanction of the manufacturer, the model, and “GB2626-2019,” which is simply a notation to a prime power modular approved by the Chinese government.

The KF94 won’t beryllium stamped with text, but the bundle should accidental “Made successful Korea” and see the merchandise name, shaper and distributor name. The bundle volition besides person an expiration day and a batch fig printed connected it. (Medical masks that transportation an electrostatic complaint each person expiration dates.) If your disguise comes from a Korean importer, the accusation connected the bundle volition beryllium successful Korean, but galore companies person begun to make English-language packaging.

A fig of resources person sprung up to assistance radical navigate the mask-buying process. Project N95 is simply a nonprofit known for vetting its disguise suppliers. Mr. Collins, the Mask Nerd, has created a fig of lists and resources for disguise buyers. You tin cheque retired his Twitter feed, his YouTube channel and a spreadsheet helium has created of astir 450 antithetic masks and however they performed successful his tests.

Mr. Collins whitethorn beryllium champion known for his database of children’s masks. While determination is nary N95 disguise for kids approved successful the United States, disguise makers successful China and Korea person created KN95s and KF94s for children, including immoderate with child-friendly colors and prints. Mr. Collins created a video “primer for parents” astir uncovering a high-quality disguise for kids that has much than 100,000 views.

“I had retired from disguise testing,” Mr. Collins said, noting that helium doesn’t person immoderate compensation for his work. “But I came retired of status to bash the kids video. The lone spot I’ve seen a database of trial information is unluckily me.”

Wirecutter, a merchandise reappraisal tract owned by The New York Times, has a usher for buying aesculapian masks, 1 for buying children’s masks and a database of 12 reddish flags that mightiness awesome your disguise is simply a counterfeit.

It’s not easy, but the C.D.C. has a fewer lists you tin usage to corroborate a disguise has been vetted. A enactment of caution: If you don’t find a peculiar mask, marque definite you’ve looked it up the close way. For instance, a Gerson N95 disguise won’t beryllium recovered nether the missive “G.” It’s listed nether “L” due to the fact that the afloat sanction of the institution that makes it is Louis M. Gerson.

For N95 masks, spell to the C.D.C.’s alphabetical database of NIOSH-approved respirators. You tin besides look up the TC support fig utilizing the certified instrumentality list.

For KN95 masks, you tin usage 2 checklists from the Food and Drug Administration. The F.D.A. created these lists aboriginal successful the pandemic, erstwhile the bureau issued an exigency usage authorization that allowed wellness workers to usage KN95 masks due to the fact that of a shortage of N95s. Now that the N95 proviso is adequate, the bureau has revoked the authorization for these workers, but different radical tin inactive usage KN95s. While the database is present a spot outdated, uncovering your disguise connected it adds reassurance that it’s little apt to beryllium counterfeit — with the caveat that there’s nary longer authoritative U.S. oversight for immoderate of these firms.

Use this F.D.A. list to find KN95 masks made successful China, and this list for KN95 masks made successful different countries.

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