With COVID-19 cases surging, it may finally be time to opt for the best N95 face mask (or KN95 or KF94) you can find. Some health experts are now saying that because cloth masks are generally made with a looser fit and more breathable materials, these types of face masks are more susceptible to leakage. As a result, cloth masks may not be able to filter smaller particles as effectively as high-filtration face masks, meaning they may not provide adequate protection. To help identify the best face masks for reducing the transmission and contraction of COVID-19, we spoke with health experts about the importance of respirator masks, such as the N95.
“Omicron is the most transmissible variant yet,” Leana Wen, M.D., emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, tells SELF. “A simple cloth face covering is not enough in the face of such a highly contagious variant. You can wear a cloth mask on top of a medical-grade surgical mask, but ideally, you wear a N95, KN95, or KF94 face mask of the highest quality.”
Wen’s guidance extends to children as well. “Making sure that your child is wearing a high-quality mask at all times, indoors, is very important too,” Wen previously told CNN. “Everyone should be wearing at least a three-ply surgical mask…an N95 or KN95 is even better.”
Let’s be clear: The best type of mask is the one you’ll actually wear. Cloth face masks and surgical masks still provide some protection—so this isn’t an excuse to ditch your mask altogether if you can’t find an N95.
But if you are looking for a solid N95 face mask, actually finding one can be tough, especially when there’s a flood of similar-sounding KN95, KF94, cloth, and surgical masks on the market—many of which are fake (in fact, around 60% of KN95s are counterfeit, according to the CDC). Below, we’ve broken down the differences in these high-filtration masks, guidance on how to spot a fake, and rounded up (real) N95, KN95, and KF94 masks in various sizes, styles, and colors available from retailers like Amazon, Honeywell, and Vida.
What’s the difference between N95, KN95, and KF94 masks?
Regulation: The main difference between N95, KN95, and KF94 masks is where they are regulated. N95 face masks are regulated by the U.S. government and the CDC through the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (or NIOSH). KN95 masks are regulated by the Chinese government, and KF94 masks are regulated by the Korean Ministry of Food and Safety (KFDA).
Filtration: According to the CDC, when worn properly fitted to the face, N95 masks are meant to filter out at least 95% of tiny airborne particles. KN95 masks also filter out at least 95% of particles per China’s regulations, but the NIOSH regulations of N95 masks are considered to be stricter. KF94s block at least 94% of particles, according to studies.