Healthcare, manufacturing, construction, and even education settings all have different nuanced requirements for respiratory protection. Although surgical masks have their uses for preventing the spread of disease, they do not provide strong protection against airborne particles and pathogens.
N95 masks, also known as N95 respirators, are essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers. KN95 masks have a similar name and design but do not have the exact same production and quality control requirements. There are a few minor differences between N95 masks and KN95 masks, and depending on your setting, the differences may mean one is more appropriate for your workplace than the other.
Under United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, N95 masks and respirators must meet strict requirements set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). These filtration and pressure resistance requirements demand significant testing to ensure high-quality results in every batch produced by a given manufacturer.
N95 masks are required to filter 95 percent of particles 0.3 microns in size and larger. Their inhalation resistance maximum pressure drop is 343 Pascals (Pa), and their exhalation resistance maximum pressure drop is 245 Pa. They are also tested for leak rate and force applied to ensure that they are engineered to provide proper protection under normal wear and tear.
Although some N95 respirator masks have an exhalation valve, this respirator valve may actually make it harder for the mask to prevent you from spreading illnesses. Masks with a valve should only be used in environments where there is no potential for the user to spread disease. N95 masks also typically use neck and head straps instead of ear loops for a better fit.
KN95 refers to a Chinese certification that is similar to N95 certification. Like N95 masks, KN95 masks are tested heavily with a salt solution to measure their permeability. They are required to filter the same amount of particles 0.3 microns and larger, and manufacturers must do a fit test on live humans before receiving certification.
However, KN95 masks have a slightly different design and pressure requirements. They have an inhalation resistance maximum pressure drop of 350 Pa and an exhalation resistance maximum pressure drop of 250 Pa, which are both slightly higher than N95. However, in most contexts, the difference is not noticeable, and they still provide a very high level of protection.
Under normal circumstances, N95 masks are certified for use in U.S. hospital settings, while KN95 masks are not. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA has also allowed KN95 masks to be used to supplement stocks of N95 masks.
Even without special exceptions, KN95 masks are appropriate for a range of general-purpose settings where exposure to small particles and pathogens. Some manufacturing settings require additional specialized respiratory protection, but for general dust and dirt, KN95 masks provide sufficient filtration.
KN95 masks are also appropriate for settings where employees may occasionally come into contact with sick individuals but will not be acting in a healthcare capacity. For example, teachers who have to assist a child with signs of illness may benefit from wearing a KN95 mask.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend N95 masks for use by the general public, in part because their level of protection is not necessary outside of close contact settings. However, since they also help protect individuals from spreading any illnesses they have, valveless N95 and KN95 masks can be used in place of surgical masks if needed. They may be especially helpful for people who are already coughing or sneezing due to their illness.
Although these masks both target particles 0.3 microns and larger, studies show that they can still be highly effective at filtering smaller particles. The key is in the masks’ multiple layers of fabric that often still trap these smaller particles.
Overall, N95 and KN95 masks are both highly effective when worn and removed properly and in combination with other PPE. They are more effective than cloth face masks and safer to stop the spread of COVID-19 or even seasonal influenza.
Sourcing Your Masks
Your masks need to have careful construction in every part, from the ear loops to the seams. Even if you ultimately decide on KN95 masks instead of N95 masks, you need to source them from a supplier that guarantees you the highest level of protection possible.
ICU Production is committed to providing high-quality masks and other PPE to healthcare facilities, community organizations, and others who need protection. Call our PPE hotline at 1-(323) 970-2513 for more information about how we can meet your needs.