With such similar-sounding names, it can be confusing to understand the difference between N95 and KN95 masks. What are KN95 masks, and are they the same as N95 masks? This handy chart explains the similarities and differences between N95 and KN95 masks.
N95 vs. KN95 Comparison Chart
Source: 3M – Comparison of FFP2, KN95, and N95 and Other Filtering Facepiece
In short, N95 masks are the US standards for respirator masks; KN95 masks are the Chinese standards for masks.
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According to mask manufacturer 3M, “it is reasonable to consider” China’s KN95s “equivalent” to US N95s. Mask standards for Europe (FFP2), Australia (P2), Korea (KMOEL), and Japan (DS) are also very similar.
N95 vs. KN95: What’s the Same?
Lots of users care most about what percentage of particles the masks capture. On this metric, N95 and KN95 respirator masks are the same. Both masks are rated to capture 95% of tiny particles (0.3 micron particles, to be exact).
Since N95 and KN95 masks are rated to capture 95% of 0.3 micron particles, people will often assume that masks can’t capture particles smaller than 0.3 microns. If that was true, then it wouldn’t make sense that masks do a really good job of preventing virus transmission.
The crazy reality is that particles smaller than 0.3 microns are actually easier to capture. Don’t believe us; believe the data. Here’s the science behind it »
Difference Between N95 vs. KN95 Masks
Both ratings require masks to be tested for filtration efficiency at capturing salt particles (NaCl). Both are tested at a flow rate of 85 L/minute. However, there are some differences between N95 and KN95, highlighted here.
KN95 vs. N95 – Differences Highlighted
Most of these differences are small and would be uninteresting to the average mask user. However, here are the key differences:
1. To be certified as a KN95 mask, the Chinese government requires the manufacturer to run a special mask fit test on real humans with ≤ 8% leakage. The N95 mask standard does not require manufacturers to run fit tests.
This does not mean that fit tests aren’t helpful. Many hospitals and companies require their workers to be fit-tested. However, those are requirements of companies themselves, not for the US NIOSH certification on the mask.
2. N95 masks have slightly stricter requirements for pressure drop while inhaling. That means they’re required to be slightly more breathable than KN95 masks.
Don’t worry, despite it sometimes feeling difficult to breathe through masks, dying from oxygen starvation is very unlikely when wearing a mask.
3. N95s also have slightly stricter requirements for pressure drop while exhaling, which should help with breathability.
Some N95 Masks Tested Fail Standards
Smart Air tested 31 N95 masks on the market coming from China. We used a wind tunnel and Met One particle counter to see how many particles were getting through each mask.
13 out of 31 masks did not meet the N95 standard, many far below.
When purchasing a KN95 or N95, note that not all mask brands are of equal quality. Sticking to reputable brands such as 3M can help better ensure the mask actually meets the KN95/N95 standard.
DIY N95 Mask?
N95 masks are one of the best-performing masks on the market, but they come at a higher cost compared to surgical masks and have seen shortages in the past. So can you make your own DIY N95 mask? A recent study showed that simply using rubberbands to improve the fit of surgical masks can improve a surgical mask’s performance to the N95 standard.
Bottom Line: Difference Between N95 vs. KN95 Masks
N95s and KN95s are both rated to capture 95% of particles. Among the minor differences, only KN95 masks are required to pass fit tests, while N95 masks have slightly stronger breathability standards.
Availability of N95 and KN95 Masks
The availability of N95 and KN95 masks can vary greatly depending on location. In the United States, KN95 masks are far easier to get your hands on than N95 masks. The reason is KN95 masks do not meet the NIOSH standards for face masks, so hospitals and healthcare facilities can only use N95 masks. For this reason, N95 masks may be reserved for healthcare workers, leaving a larger supply of KN95 masks for the average consumer. This does not mean the KN95 masks are inferior, as long as they are genuine KN95 masks.
CDC Update (2022): N95/KN95 Masks and Omicron
The more contagious COVID-19 omicron variant has put a spotlight on more effective masks such as N95 and KN95 masks. In January of 2022, the CDC updated their masking guidelines stating respirators such as N95 and KN95 “offer the highest level of protection”. The CDC also clarified that people can use these respirators for regular use and that there is little supply shortage concern like previously.
Learn More About N95 and KN95 Masks
Wondering how to wash a KN95 or N95 mask? Read more on the most reliable way to wash and disinfect your KN95 or N95 mask »
Check out the full US Code of Federal Regulations for N95 (and also N99, N100 masks).
Along with wearing masks, air purifiers with HEPA filters are also one of the best ways to stay safe from a variety of pollutants in our air including viruses and dangerous PM2.5. A recent CDC study confirmed significantly lower COVID-19 infection rates in schools that used HEPA air purifiers. HEPA filters can significantly lower the risk of a variety of deadly diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.
Read More: Four Steps to Choosing the Best Air Purifier
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