Well-fitting N95 respirator masks approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) — like the masks the Biden administration is distributing to the public — offer adults “the highest level of protection” against Covid-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worn properly, N95 respirator masks provide adults with a far higher degree of protection than cloth masks or blue “surgical” procedure masks that were encouraged earlier in the pandemic.
Although N95s are the only mask approved by a US regulatory agency, there are also other high-quality respirator masks on the market that are designed to meet international standards. According to the CDC, the most widely available mask respirators that meet an international standard are KN95 respirators, designed to the Chinese standard; there are also KF94 respirators, which meet the South Korean standard. But be aware that no US regulatory agency oversees the manufacturing or import of KN95 or KF94 respirator masks.
This doesn’t mean KN95 and KF94 masks are bad, but, because they are not regulated by a US agency, we are exclusively recommending only NIOSH-approved N95 respirator masks in this article. Read on for details about how to tell if an N95 mask is authentic, and for more guidance on KN95 and K494 masks.
We pored over the CDC’s list of NIOSH-approved N95 respirator masks (which NIOSH reviews and updates weekly) to find readily available, NIOSH-approved N95 respirator masks. Note that all N95 respirator masks are intended for adults only. According to the CDC, while there are N95 masks for children on the market, there currently is no formal CDC-approved guidance for children.
According to the CDC, “Although respirators may be available in smaller sizes, they are typically designed to be used by adults in workplaces and therefore have not been tested for broad use in children.”
While N95 masks are meant for adults only — and any masks marketed for children should raise serious concerns — CNN Health has reported that KN95 masks will provide better protection for children than surgical or cloth masks, especially when following the CDC’s knot and tuck method. If and when the CDC or Biden administration announces formal guidance for N95 masks for children, we will update this story with those mask recommendations.
This mask’s flexible contoured nosepiece and duckbill design allows for a custom fit to a variety of different face sizes and shapes. It appears here on the CDC list. NIOSH approval number TC-84A-9318 and model number 3120.
This is a fold-style N95 mask. You can opt for a one-time purchase or subscribe and get masks delivered monthly. It appears here on the CDC list. NIOSH approval number TC-84A-9251 and model number DT-N95-FH.
You can get 20 of these N95 masks for $2.25 each, 40 masks for $2.15 each or 80 masks for $1.99 each. The price per unit lowers as quantity increases (up to 10,000 masks). It appears here on the CDC list. NIOSH approval number TC-84A-6973 and model number HRLY-N95-L188-20.
This mask is a cup-style N95 mask and it comes in medium and large, so be sure to order the size you need. It appears here on the CDC list. NIOSH approval number TC-84A-9295 and model number SR9520.
You can get this as a one-time 10-pack mask purchase or as a subscription of two-week or four-week automatic shipments. Available in white (black was sold out at the time this story was published). This flat-fold mask features adjustable head straps. It appears here on the CDC list. NIOSH approval number TC-84A-7447 and model number WB-N-200.
For more information on specific NIOSH-approved N95 respirator masks and approved manufacturers and distributors, see the CDC N95 mask list, which also provides model numbers. Be warned that this list is very difficult for most consumers to navigate, and often there are no links to where you can buy the masks. Going directly to manufacturer and distributor websites can also be confusing.
Not every N95 mask listed on an approved manufacturer’s or distributor’s website may be NIOSH-approved, so note the model numbers listed on the CDC list to ensure you’re ordering what you actually mean to order. Admittedly, this can also be difficult to do since mask model numbers are not always made readily available on these websites. This brings us to other ways to sort out your N95 and equivalent respirator mask purchases.
According to the CDC, counterfeit respirators are “products that are falsely marketed and sold as being NIOSH-approved and may not be capable of providing appropriate respiratory protection.” But most consumers will have a hard time spotting a counterfeit mask by simply looking at it or holding it, according to Bill Taubner, president of New York-based Bona Fide Masks Corp., a mask supplier approved by Project N95, the National Clearinghouse for personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 tests. Project N95 is a nonprofit working to provide access to affordable and authentic respiratory protection for all via education, advocacy and distribution.
To help ensure you’re buying an actual NIOSH-approved N95 respirator mask, check the CDC’s list of counterfeit N95 respirator masks. The CDC states that N95 respirator masks have appropriate N95 markings printed on the mask to indicate authenticity. Some of these markings include the model number and the NIOSH TC-approval number (e.g., TC-84A-XXXX). For masks manufactured after September 2008, the NIOSH TC-approval number is required to appear on the mask.
According to the CDC, some of the telltale signs that an N95 mask might be fake are that “NIOSH” isn’t listed on the mask, “NIOSH” is spelled incorrectly, the mask has decorative fabric or other decorative add-ons (e.g., sequins), there are claims that it’s approved for children and the mask has ear loops instead of headbands. Authentic N95 respirator masks have two headbands: one to go over the crown of the head and one that sits at the base of the neck. These headbands provide a snug fit around the face, cheeks and chin.
N95 masks may not work for everyone. As previously stated, there currently are no NIOSH-approved N95 respirator masks approved for children, and some wearers may choose slightly less protective masks to gain additional comfort or convenience, avoiding potentially face-pinching an
Your guide to buying NIOSH-approved N95 respirator masks
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