N95 Masks vs. KN95 Masks: Mask Standards from Around the Globe
Everyone has heard of N95 respirator masks in the news. But did you know that it's not the only mask out there?
Around the US, many hospitals and medical facilities find themselves in a shortage of N95 and other respirator masks. These masks are certified by the FDA and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) to create healthy and safe workplaces [Source: NIOSH]. They work as filters that block out small particles from the air before you breathe them into your lungs. The mentioned N95 masks are rated to filter out 95% of particles that are 2.5 microns or higher (3% the width of a human hair). This rating is more commonly seen as "PM2.5".
Another Standard from Asia: KN95
The KN95 face respirator mask is another class of PM2.5 masks that follows standards set and followed by many Asian Nations. It also is rated to filter out 95% of particles that are 2.5 microns or larger. However, since KN95 masks have not been rated by the FDA or NIOSH, then they are not used in hospitals or other clinics even though they offer comparable protection.
Now that China has contained their pandemic and is now returning to near normal operations, KN95 masks are starting to increase in supply. If you want to protect yourself and your family here in the USA but do not want to snatch resources and PPE from hospital staff, then you can consider purchasing KN95 masks.
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Other Standards from Around the World
Fig. 1: Comparison of Mask Tests with Different Standards [Source: 3M]
The table above shows tests conducted by 3M to test the efficacy of the different types of standards. Each region is shown to offer at least 94% of protection against the applicable particles. The standards depend on the region but each standard is professionally and rigorously tested by the region it is developed for.
The best way to know what standard the masks you have follow is to read them off the front of the masks. Genuinely produced masks will always have information regarding the model and standards that they follow printed on them. You can also tell by doing additional research on the brands that you encounter. For example, Makrite and 3M are well known brands that sell different standards of masks including N95, FFP2 (the European standard), and more!
N95 masks are not the only masks out there and you should only buy them if you or someone you know is working in a hospital or similar environment. Hospitals need to have these FDA certified masks. For personal use, you may look for masks that meet other international standards that perform the same task just as well.