Zack Thompson - Aug 1 2020
One of the most common questions I am asked as someone in the PPE space is this question of the differences and similarities in these face masks. I like to try to keep the explanations short and to the point, first thing is that N95 masks are the US standards for respirator masks, KN95 masks are the Chinese standards for masks.
95% BFE. Both KN95 masks and N95 masks are rated to capture 95% of BFE (Bacterial Filter Efficiency) of tiny particles, 0.3 microns, to be exact.
NaCl. Both are required to be tested on their filtration efficiency at capturing salt particles (NaCl).
Flow Rate. Both masks are tested at a flow rate of 85 L/minute.
Fitting. KN95 masks are required to pass fit tests and N95 are not though they do generally have a fit class in hospitals etc. to learn to effectively use them. Here is a good link for fit testing that was put out by OSHA and it has a nice link to some good videos to teach you how this should be done as individuals or employers.
N95 masks with NIOSH standards require behind the head straps and KN95 uses ear loop straps.
Breathability. N95 masks have slightly stronger breathability standards meaning that they have very modestly better inhale/exhale pressure standards. Slightly different requirements for pressure drop when inhaling and same for exhaling, in my opinion very minor differences and average person will not notice.
The main thing I recommend in choosing between these two versions of masks is for the KN95 masks they are very safe and very comparable but I recommend only buying ones that have trusted lab testing results performed in the US like this modified Niosh test from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) of KN95s sold by N95MedicalSupplies.com a US based distributor.
Even according to mask manufacturer 3M, they are quoted as saying “it is reasonable to consider” KN95s “equivalent” to N95s made in the United States. Mask standards for other areas like Europe (FFP2), Korea (KMOEL), Japan (DS), and Australia (P2) all very much resemble the qualities of KN95 and N95 masks.
The masks are quite similar on almost all the features and needs that most people care about and here is one final good chart that explains many of those technical differences in detail. My personal preference is I wear an ear loop KN95 that has been tested for filtration and I’m very satisfied.