KN95 respirators and surgical 3 ply masks have been on the forefront of the public’s fight against coronavirus. Perhaps one of the universal images coming out of this pandemic and beyond is going to be the face mask. Regulations are requiring people to wear masks in order to enter different public spaces, but even when it’s not a rule, it’s a preference.
At one point, confusion about their role and a rush for PPE meant that there were mask shortages across the country, but as that settles, the discussion is not “Can I find a mask?” but rather “What mask is best for me?”
Complicating the fact is all the different masks out there on the market for people to choose from when they shop online. N95 masks, KN95 masks, 3-ply masks, surgical masks, disposable masks—all of these offer different tiers of protection and can be ideal options for a different segment of the population. How do you know which one to choose? Here’s a breakdown of all the various options.
Masks Vs. COVID-19
Before comparing the different masks on the market, let’s talk about the actual science of why you want to have one in the first place.
Viruses like COVID-19 are largely transmitted by microscopic particles in the air and on surfaces. While our skin is a bit of a natural barrier against viral particles, other parts of the body, like the nose, eyes and mouth, provide perfect points of entry.
If you were to say, touch a surface with particles on it and rub your nose without thinking, you could expose yourself to infection, even if you thought you were being safe.
This is what makes masks so important. It’s not just about protecting you from obvious situations, like being in the vicinity of a coughing person, it also protects you from less obvious sources of infection, like lingering particles from someone who sneezed on a surface or particles that get on your hands. With that in mind, we can talk about some of the best masks on the market.
KN95 Vs. Surgical Masks
Let’s start the conversation by talking about the differences between KN95 vs. surgical masks. If you want to get technical, the options aren’t even in the same category, at least, not completely. A KN95 respirator face mask and other respirator masks are specifically designed to help reduce the respiratory exposure of the wearer to different airborne contaminants. This can include vapors and gases, but obviously, the main focus at the moment is particles, especially viral particles.
- These have a tip-shaped hanging ear design that lowers slipping risk.
- These are free of latex for those with sensitivities.
- They are lightweight.
- They are humidity-resistant for added protection.
- You can reuse the elastic fabric, with no smell.
- Each mask comes with a silicone adjustable nose clip. These help you adjust the sealing and stop glasses from fogging while wearing your mask.
Note that there are many different sizes and styles for respirator masks, and you need to individually pick and fit one to get a proper seal for the desired effect. When a respirator works properly, all air the wearer inhales has to go through the filter material, supplying protection. However, because of that, size fit and proper installation matters. This is why we offer options like the KN90 Face Masks for Children to ensure they have the proper protection they need.
This is also what provides that slight element of reusability for a KN95 vs surgical masks. Because the filter is what’s contacting the particles, that’s what needs to be replaced most often. You may get a little extra mileage out of the actual mask structure that holds the filter in place. However, make sure that you keep track of what the recommended amount of use is before replacement to protect yourself.
By comparison, a surgical mask is more about restraining large particles from contaminating a space. Examples of this may include spit or mucous in a sterile environment. There is also a protective component, but not necessarily applying to viral particles. Instead, the bigger concern is about blood, bodily fluids or secretions getting around the mouth or nose. Surgical masks can provide a layer of protection here.
What option is best for you?
That ultimately depends on a hazard analysis of the work environment in question. However, for COVID-19 purposes, only respirators like KN95 actually can filter out viral particles.
KN95 Vs. Disposable Face Masks
So, let’s move the discussion to KN95 vs 3-ply disposable face masks instead. These have their uses, but even compared to surgical masks, they are quite different. Options like Disposable 3 Ply Medical Face Masks- Non-Sterile are something that everyone should have on them, but not necessarily for the reasons that you think. For one thing, in situations where respirator supplies are minimal, they should be reserved for medical workers and other first responders. Since they have the highest risk of exposure, they require the greatest amount of care. In addition, just like surgical masks, disposable masks help keep asymptomatic people from unwittingly infecting others, especially in settings where it’s hard to enact social distancing.
So, what do disposable masks bring to the table? Mainly, it’s accessibility. In situations where it’s hard to get your hands on a respirator, having something over your face is better than nothing. It may not be able to properly filter out smaller particles, but it will at least keep any larger particles or fluids from entering your nose and mouth. Make sure that when you use these, you wash them and yourself after every use. And when you remove them, be careful to avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth.
So, if you have a choice between using KN95 vs disposable face masks, many people in workplace environments are going to favor KN95. Disposable face masks and surgical masks might be okay for private citizens that need to run a brief errand. In these cases, the larger concern is an asymptomatic person spreading viral particles and getting other people infected. Disposable masks are fine for this because they hold back any air particles they may expel from affecting other people.
However, the actual prevention of being infected is minimal. For those that may be in a customer-facing job or working among others in tight conditions, there’s a far greater risk for exposure over a longer period of time. You want that extra protection.
In some cases, you may be in a situation where you know there is a risk of infection (being in a home with an infected family member, clearing out the room of an infected person in the hospital, etc.) In these situations, disposable masks are better than no masks, but don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Consider buying additional equipment like Protective Face Shields to give you another layer of protection.
What Is The Infamous N95 Mask?
So, with this in mind, how does the N95 mask factor in? The major difference between N95 and KN95 is that while KN95 masks meet the Chinese standard for masks, N95 masks are the American standard. However, the two do have a lot of similarities, like both being designed to block out 95% of particles. There are also different equivalents for these in other regions as well for respirator masks. For example, KF94 is the code for Korea, and FFP2 is the code for the EU.
The differences between KN95 and N95 masks are subtle, but bear mentioning. For example, to be certified as a KN95 mask, the Chinese government requires mask fit tests on actual people with over 8% leakage. This is something that’s not required for N95 certification. Instead, what you’ll see is a lot of hospitals or businesses that use these masks doing the fit tests themselves, rather than having the government do it.
The other main differences largely revolve around breathability. N95 has a slightly stricter requirement for pressure drops when inhaling and exhaling. This helps with breathability a bit. So, the only real difference between KN95 and N95 is breathability. In terms of protection, they are equal.
So, with this in mind, why are KN95 masks getting unfairly maligned by some? A lot of this has to do with confusion and unscrupulous actors. Some scammers are advertising their lower-tier masks as KN95, and when people buy this false mask and see the lower quality, they assume KN95 is the issue, rather than the seller. At iPromo, we understand that quality is important more now than ever. This is why we bring our 20 years of international sourcing experience to the table to make sure you get the masks that you need.
Workplace safety is going to be an essential discussion when it comes to the business world, especially as we are starting to move toward reopening in some areas. Making sure that your workplace has a stockpile of masks for customer and employee interactions is essential not just for safety, but also consumer confidence moving forward. With a full understanding of the various differences, you can make the smart decision on what masks fit your risk level, budget, and other important concerns.