Where To Buy N95 Masks and Similar Equivalents Right Now
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Where To Buy N95 Masks and Similar Equivalents Right Now

Nov 01, 2023

Editor's Note: In light of the hazardous levels of smoke sweeping over the Northeast from wildfires in Canada, we've updated this story to include some guidelines on which reusable face masks can help filter out particulates from fire and smoke, current masking advisements from the CDC, plus adjusted our recommendations below according to supply and price fluctuations.

At this point in the pandemic, masking requirements have eased up around the country, but if you're renewing your search for the best N95 masks and KN95s to protect yourself against dangerous smoke particles or the influx of allergens during spring and summer, you're not alone.

Experts recommend disposable masks like N95s and KN95s for the best protection and filtration against airborne viruses like COVID, plus for protection against a wealth of other irritants and pollutants. Below, we've outlined some of the best N95 masks (and similar equivalents) to shop if you're stocking up.

Both N95s and KN95s (a similar equivalent from China, tested by Chinese standards) are designed to filter out 95% of airborne particles that are 0.3 microns or larger, but N95s are vetted more rigorously. Since they're the only masks approved for use in medical settings stateside, N95 masks have passed additional tests for factors like fluid resistance and flammability. The two also look slightly different: KN95s typically use ear loops to stay put on your face and feature a beak-like silhouette, while N95s have straps that loop behind your head for a more secure fit.

South Korea produces an N95 face mask equivalent known as a KF94 (tested by Korean standards) which uses ear loops and an extended piece that fits up and over your nose, forming a tighter seal there. They're especially helpful for people with small faces or anyone who needs a more customized fit.

Though surgical-style masks and cloth masks were popular at the beginning of the pandemic, they're no longer recommended by health experts for efficacy. Reusable P100 respirators (which offer extreme levels of respiratory protection courtesy of two valves that filter out at least 99.97% of airborne particles) are a suitable alternative to an N95 respirator, but since those can be bulky and hard to breathe in, we've only recommended disposable masks below.

Your best bet is to buy any mask that's certified by the NIOSH, or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, against stringent US standards for quality. N95s that are NIOSH-approved should be stamped with the words "NIOSH," as well as an approval (TC) number, on the masks themselves—see here for an example of what that would look like—or on the packaging.

Another grouping of masks were FDA-approved for Emergency Use Authorization early in the pandemic (meaning that the manufacturer evaluated the product for efficacy, and that the FDA recognized it), with some of them later revoked if they failed to meet NIOSH standards, so it's important to be careful when selecting which mask you're buying.

The CDC notes that about 60% of all KN95 respirators on the market in 2020 and 2021 were fake, but have outlined how to tell if yours is valid based on the packaging.

Still, just because a mask isn't given the green light by these agencies doesn't necessarily mean it's useless. Any mask is better than going without if you want to filter out airborne viruses, irritants, and smoke particulates (more on that below). Regardless of which type you choose, everything boils down to a good fit. Make sure that your mask forms a seal around your face without any gaps, stays on easily, doesn't inhibit your breathing, and includes multiple layers of material to protect you. For added security, you can still double up with a cloth mask on top of your paper mask, or pop in an additional filter.

Because N95 and KN95 masks are designed to filter out 95% of particles that are 0.3 microns or larger, they are the most effective masks for filtering out fine remnants from smoke and smog (which can heighten your risk of respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, and heart disease, even from short-term exposure), though they won't protect you against any hazardous gases produced by fires. For what it's worth, the EPA only recommends NIOSH-approved N95s with two straps that go behind your head and P100 respirators to filter out particulates from ash and smoke, not ones with one strap or even masks that loop behind your ears.

Since all of these masks are disposable and meant to be single-use, you might wonder how long you can safely wear one without taking it off during the day, or if it's safe to rewear the same mask than once. It's certainly more cost-effective, and while the CDC did advise on ways to reuse a paper mask in the past to counter dwindling supplies of respirators, supplies have bounced back in such a way that it's no longer advocating for decontaminating and reusing masks (at least, among medical personnel, though you can probably take your own cues based on those guidelines).

Know that the more often you wear the same mask, the more you're compromising the fit and the filtration quality: You might notice your straps getting a little flimsier or the mask not adhering to your face well. Plus, chances are that if your mask gets contaminated, dusty, or if it's a particularly smoggy, smoky day, you're not going to want to put the same filter back on your face again.

$93.00, Amazon

Kimberly Clark's N95 is a NIOSH-approved mask for non-medical use that features a duck bill silhouette with one colorful stretchy strap that fits over your head. A nice pocket of space in front of your mouth adds breathability and if you struggle with finding a close fit on these, Kimberly-Clark also sells a smaller version for the same price.

$53.00, Amazon

Blessedly, this NIOSH-approved, four-layer Benehal mask includes a soft foam inner nose piece that won't rub up against your nose area, and an adjustable metal piece on the outside to keep it sitting in the right place. The soft elastic straps on it are also secured by green clips on the side for a little extra visual appeal.

$17.00, Amazon

Aegle's five-layer N95s are made by a company based in Brookshire, Texas. Its masks come in 20-packs, and offer five layers of protection. There's also plenty of anti-counterfeit information on the packaging to confirm that you're buying a legit NIOSH-certified mask, and not some fake.

$23.00, Home Depot

3M's N95 face masks got the green light from NIOSH, too: You can adjust the placement thanks to the two straps that circle your head, and there's a little pocket of space in front of your mouth for added breathability.

$35.00, Home Depot

BNX's NIOSH-approved masks come in an unusual all-black color for an N95.

$25.00, VIDA

Vida's been making high-quality masks since the early days of the pandemic, and produces a range of disposable masks like these N95s that are NIOSH-certified and come in a handsome blue color for kids and adults.

$22.00, Amazon

These Byd Care masks are technically KN95s, but fit like an N95 with two straps behind the head for an even more secure fit.

$17.00, Amazon

Powecom's KN95s offer five layers of protection, an adjustable nose clip, and a flexible silhouette that's designed to comfortably seal around your face.

$20.00, Amazon

Hotodeal's surgical-style masks were formerly FDA-authorized for emergency use. Each comes with an adjustable nose clip for securing the mask in place, and offers five layers of protection.

$15.00, Amazon

If you prefer brights over neutrals, these KN95s (which were previously FDA-authorized for emergency use) come in a multi-pack of colors.

$25.00, Vida

Vida also makes five-layer surgical-style masks in brights and neutrals that you can buy in bulk (up to 1,000 masks at a time).

$3.00, Home Depot

Supplyaid sells its five-ply masks in 10-packs of black or white for a mere $3. Conveniently, you can buy them online or shop them in person at your local Home Depot.

$39.00, Maskc

Maskc (pronounced "Mask-see") masks offer five layers of protection, with an adjustable nose bridge for a more secure fit. The brand offers a bunch of patterns and prints for kids and adults, from plaid and floral KN95s to marbled designs and subdued pastels like these.

$15.00, evolvetogether

Evolvetogether's masks include its signature geographic coordinates in the corner. These masks offer six layers of protection, and come in variety packs of multiple colors.

As we mentioned, KF9N4s are Korean masks, so they are certified by Korean standards, but most of them only entered the market late in the pandemic, and haven't been up for approval by the NIOSH or FDA. We've outlined a couple well-reviewed options to peruse, but keep in mind that these may not offer the same protection against smoke and smog as the N95s and KN95s above.

$20.00, Amazon

Flax's KF94s offer four-layer protection in soft fabrics and individual packaging.

$11.00, Amazon

Here's another well-reviewed KF94 model that we like for its secure fit and comfortable ear loops.

$12.00, Amazon

Good Day Korea also makes kids-sized versions of the same masks. We've tested them first-hand and found them to be a great for smaller faces (without needing to make adjustments), whether for children or adults.

$30.00, Amazon

Here's another one that's better suited for kids and people with small faces. It includes four layers of protection and come in other muted colors if you're deviating from basic black or white.

$17.00, Amazon

Kleannara's masks offer four layers of protection, and come very well-reviewed. Shoppers (nearly 900 of them) appreciate that these are so breathable and comfortable, with a bendable nose area for forming a tight seal around your face. If you're shopping in bulk, Kleannara also sells a 30-pack box that net out to about $1 per mask.

$25.00, Vida

Vida's KF94 masks come in an assortment of colors for kids and adults (and you can even shop them in bulk!).

Originally Appeared on GQ

Editor's Note: